Soils provide the basis for plant production and provide numerous ecosystem services ranging from water storage and purification to carbon sequestration. There are continuous interactions between soils and the soil-related biota such as plants, microorganisms and soil fauna. Plant roots fulfil major exchange functions with the biotic and abiotic soil environment. Root systems are designed to secure plant anchoring in the soil and exposed to competitive interactions.
Anthropogenic activities are affecting the below-ground conditions producing several constraints for plant growth. Especially soil compaction increases the soil bulk density and alters soil physical properties such as water permeability and gas exchange. Humans provoke fire hazards, and manipulation of the water table results in changes in soil salinity. In the view of environmental change, extreme weather events, such as drought and flooding are expected to increase in frequency and intensity on the global scale (IPCC 2007); the functioning of soil-related process are bound to be impaired more regularly and severly, therefore impacting on plant productivity.
On this background, the Erasmus Intensive Programme “Soil & Water” aims to provide an interdisciplinary international course for students from four countries to bring together expertise from different geographical and climatic locations in Europe together with different land-use and land-history patterns. The activity has the following objectives in order to foster student's knowledge specifically to a wide range of European environments, and to transmit the state-of-the-art competences in general terms and particular ‘hot’ topics:
- to highlight the interactions between soils, plants and soil organisms
- to provide interdisciplinary insights into soil processes
- to increase the knowledge in relation to plant, with emphasis on elucidating effects of drought and flooding on plants and soil organisms
- to outline major (anthropogenic and natural) threats for soil degradation and its mitigation
- to establish a link between soil functions and societal needs and expectations
In order to fulfil these aims, our Erasmus Intensive Programme will be held in locations of contrasting climatic conditions across Europe. The IP “Soil & Water” will start in Ceske Budejovice, Czech Republic, an appropriate location to demonstrate various sites, ecosystems and interactions in Central Europe. For 2013, this IP is scheduled to take place in Estonia, a country with wet and cold climate on the north-eastern margin of the EU. Finally in 2014, France will host this activity and provide insight on soil topics in relation to the seasonally hot and dry Mediterranean climate.
The establishment of such broad international cooperation will promote general academic competences and has substantial value for subsequent teaching activities on all sides. Academic personnel will get insight into teaching structure and contents at the hosting university. The lectures provided will go beyond the usual range and content of courses in the participating institutions. The lectures can be linked to existing study programmes in biology, environmental sciences and in other curricula at the participating universities.
Research activities will profit from formal and informal contacts between students and academic personnel. The IP has a strong potential to foster co-operation of biological sciences in relation to landscape management, agriculture and forestry, and to transmit this spirit to a generation of young upcoming scientists. Students will gain insight in the relevant curricula and open the opportunity to participate in already existing Erasmus exchange programmes. The IP contributes to the international mobility of bachelor and master students of participating universities and therefore provides them a better international visibility of open positions. Further, exchange experience enhances the chance to qualify for international exchange grants given by national funding bodies such as DAAD.
The proposed lectures by participating scientists will introduce specific topics and provide an outstanding interdisciplinary overview of the process-based knowledge. The programme is unique in the sense of relating soils, plants and soil organisms across a wide range of climate zones and of environmental problems essential to Europe. This is the innovative and multidisciplinary approach of this Erasmus Intensive Programme application.
This project has been funded with support from the European Commission.
This publication reflects the views only of the author, and the Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein.