Journal of Mountain Science

, Volume 16, Issue 11, pp 2577–2590 | Cite as

A soil quality index for evaluation of degradation under land use and soil erosion categories in a small mountainous catchment, Iran

  • Kazem NosratiEmail author
  • Adrian L. Collins


Soil erosion and land use type have long been viewed as being particularly important drivers of soil degradation. The objectives of this study, therefore, were to select a new soil quality index (SQI) which varies significantly with land use/soil erosion, and to evaluate the new SQI using expert opinion. In total, 18 soil physical, chemical, and biochemical properties (indicators) were measured on 56 soil samples collected from four land use/soil erosion categories (rangeland/surface erosion, rangeland/subsurface erosion, cultivated land/surface erosion and dry-farming land/surface erosion). Principal component and classification analysis (PCCA) identified five PCs that explained 77.7% of the variation in soil properties with the biochemical PC varying significantly with land use/soil erosion. General discriminant analysis (GDA) selected urease and clay as the most sensitive properties distinguishing the land use/soil erosion categories. The GDA canonical scores for the new SQI were significantly correlated with expert opinion soil surface summed scores (for soil movement, surface litter, pedestalling, rills and flow pattern) derived using the U.S. Department of the Interior Bureau of Land Management (BLM) method. A forward stepwise general regression model revealed that the new SQI values were explained by soil movement, surface litter, and the summed values of the soil surface factors. Overall, this study confirmed that soil quality in the study area in Iran is controlled by land use and corresponding soil erosion.


Soil quality index Land use Erosion status Soil enzyme activities Multivariate statistical techniques 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.



This project was funded by a grant from the research council of Shahid Beheshti University, Tehran, Iran (Grant No. 600.4452). ALC was supported by strategic funding from the UK Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC grant BBS/E/C/000I0330; Soil to Nutrition).


  1. Akhtar-Schuster M, Stringer LC, Erlewein A, et al. (2017) Unpacking the concept of land degradation neutrality and addressing its operation through the Rio Conventions. Journal of Environmental Management 195:4–15.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Alef K, Nannipieri P (1995) Urease activity. In: Alef K, Nannipieri P (eds.), Methods in Applied Soil Microbiology and Biochemistry. Academic Press Inc, San Diego, CA. pp 316–320.Google Scholar
  3. Andrews SS, Karlen DL, Cambardella CA (2004) The soil management assessment framework. Soil Science Society of America Journal 68:1945–1962.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Arshad MA, Martin S (2002) Identifying critical limits for soil quality indicators in agro-ecosystems. Agriculture, Ecosystems & Environment 88:153–160.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Ayoubi S, Emami N, Ghaffari N, et al. (2014) Pasture degradation effects on soil quality indicators at different hillslope positions in a semiarid region of western Iran. Environmental Earth Sciences 71:375–381.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Bai Z, Caspari T, Gonzalez MR, et al. (2018) Effects of agricultural management practices on soil quality: A review of long-term experiments for Europe and China. Agriculture, Ecosystems & Environment 265:1–7.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Bindraban PS, van der Velde M, Ye L, et al. (2012) Assessing the impact of soil degradation on food production. Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability 4:478–488.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Biswas S, Hazra GC, Purakayastha TJ, et al. (2017) Establishment of critical limits of indicators and indices of soil quality in rice-rice cropping systems under different soil orders. Geoderma 292:34–48. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Brejda JJ, Karlen DL, Smith JL, Allan DL (2000) Identification of regional soil quality factors and indicators II. Northern Mississippi Loess Hills and Palouse Prairie. Soil Science Society of America Journal 64:2125–2135.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Bünemann EK, Bongiorno G, Bai Z, et al. (2018) Soil quality — A critical review. Soil Biology and Biochemistry 120:105–125. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Burger JA, Kelting DL (1999) Using soil quality indicators to assess forest stand management. Forest Ecology and Management 122:155–166.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Cassel DK, Nielsen DR (1986) Field capacity and available water capacity. In: Klute A (ed.), Methods of Soil Analysis part 1. Soil Physical Properties. Agron. Monogr. 9. ASA and SSSA, Madison, WI. pp 901–924.Google Scholar
  13. Chaer GM, Myrold DD, Bottomley PJ (2009) A soil quality index based on the equilibrium between soil organic matter and biochemical properties of undisturbed coniferous forest soils of the Pacific Northwest. Soil Biology and Biochemistry 41:822–830.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. D’Hose T, Cougnon M, De Vliegher A, et al. (2014) The positive relationship between soil quality and crop production: A case study on the effect of farm compost application. Applied Soil Ecology 75:189–198. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. de Andrade Barbosa M, de Sousa Ferraz RL, Coutinho ELM, et al. (2019) Multivariate analysis and modeling of soil quality indicators in long-term management systems. Science of the Total Environment 657:457–465. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. De Laurentiis V, Secchi M, Bos U, et al. (2019) Soil quality index: Exploring options for a comprehensive assessment of land use impacts in LCA. Journal of Cleaner Production 215:63–74.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. de Paul Obade V (2019) Integrating management information with soil quality dynamics to monitor agricultural productivity. Science of The Total Environment 651:2036–2043.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. de Paul Obade V, Lal R (2016) Towards a standard technique for soil quality assessment. Geoderma 265:96–102. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Dexter AR (2004) Soil physical quality: Part I. Theory, effects of soil texture, density, and organic matter, and effects on root growth. Geoderma 120:201–214.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Dilly O, Blume HP, Munch JC (2003) Soil microbial activities in Luvisols and Anthrosols during 9 years of region-typical tillage and fertilisation practices in northern Germany. Biogeochemistry 65:319–339. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Dilly O, Pompili L, Benedetti A (2018) Soil micro-biological indicators separated land use practices in contrast to abiotic soil properties at the 50km scale under summer warm Mediterranean climate in northern Italy. Ecological indicators 84: 298–303. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Doran JW (2002) Soil health and global sustainability: translating science into practice. Agriculture, Ecosystems & Environment 88:119–127. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Doran JW, Parkin TB (1994) Defining and assessing soil quality. In: Doran JW, Coleman DC, Bezdicek DF, Stewart BA (eds.), Defining Soil Quality for a Sustainable Environment. vol definingsoilqua. SSSA Spec. Publ. 35. ASA, Madison, WI. pp 3–21.Google Scholar
  24. Doran JW, Zeiss MR (2000) Soil health and sustainability: managing the biotic component of soil quality. Applied Soil Ecology 15:3–11. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Drobnik T, Greiner L, Keller A, Grêt-Regamey A (2018) Soil quality indicators — From soil functions to ecosystem services. Ecological Indicators 94:151–169. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Easdale MH (2016) Zero net livelihood degradation — the quest for a multidimensional protocol to combat desertification. Soil 2:129–134. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Emadi M, Baghernejad M, Memarian HR (2009) Effect of land-use change on soil fertility characteristics within water-stable aggregates of two cultivated soils in northern Iran. Land Use Policy 26:452–457.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. European Commission (2006) Thematic Strategy for Soil Protection. COM(2006)231 final, Brussels. p 12.Google Scholar
  29. Forster JC (1995) Soil physical analysis. In: Alef K, Nannipieri P (eds.), Methods in Applied Soil Microbiology and Biochemistry. Academic Press Inc, San Diego, CA. pp 105–106.Google Scholar
  30. Garrigues E, Corson MS, Angers DA, et al. (2012) Soil quality in Life Cycle Assessment: Towards development of an indicator. Ecological Indicators 18:434–442. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Godfray HCJ, Beddington JR, Crute IR, et al. (2010) Food Security: The Challenge of Feeding 9 Billion People. Science 327:812–818. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Herrick JE (2000) Soil quality: an indicator of sustainable land management? Applied Soil Ecology 15:75–83. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Jesinghaus J (1999) The Indicators. Part I: Introduction to the political and theoretical background. A European system of environmental pressure indices. In: First Volume of the Environmental Pressure Indices Handbook. European Commission, Joint Research Centre, Institute for Systems, Informatics and Safety (ISIS), Luxembourg.Google Scholar
  34. Jónsson JÖG, Davíðsdóttir B, Jónsdóttir EM, et al. (2016) Soil indicators for sustainable development: A transdisciplinary approach for indicator development using expert stakeholders. Agriculture, Ecosystems & Environment 232:179–189. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Juhos K, Czigány S, Madarász B, Ladányi M (2019) Interpretation of soil quality indicators for land suitability assessment — A multivariate approach for Central European arable soils. Ecological Indicators 99:261–272. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Juhos K, Szabó S, Ladányi M (2016) Explore the influence of soil quality on crop yield using statistically-derived pedological indicators. Ecological Indicators 63: 366–373. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Karlen DL, Andrews SS, Doran JW (2001) Soil quality: Current concepts and applications. Advances in Agronomy, Academic Press. pp 1–40.Google Scholar
  38. Karlen DL, Hurley EG, Andrews SS, et al. (2006) Crop rotation effects on soil quality at three northern corn/soybean belt locations. Agronomy journal 98:484–495.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Karlen DL, Mausbach MJ, Doran JW, et al. (1997) Soil quality: a concept, definition, and framework for evaluation. Soil Science Society of America Journal 61: 4–10. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Keesstra SD, Bouma J, Wallinga J, et al. (2016) The significance of soils and soil science towards realization of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. SOIL 2:111–128. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Kiani M, Hernandez-Ramirez G, Quideau S, et al. (2017) Quantifying sensitive soil quality indicators across contrasting long-term land management systems: Crop rotations and nutrient regimes. Agriculture, Ecosystems & Environment 248:123–135. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Kroetsch D, Wang C (2008) Particle size distribution. In: Carter MR, Gregorich EG (eds) Soil Sampling and Methods of Analysis. 2 edn. CRC Press, Taylor & Francis Group, Boca Raton. pp 713–725.Google Scholar
  43. Krüger I, Chartin C, van Wesemael B, Carnol M (2018) Defining a reference system for biological indicators of agricultural soil quality in Wallonia, Belgium. Ecological Indicators 95:568–578. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Lal R (2015) Restoring Soil Quality to Mitigate Soil Degradation. Sustainability 7:5875.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Lima ACR, Brussaard L, Totola MR, et al. (2013) A functional evaluation of three indicator sets for assessing soil quality. Applied Soil Ecology 64:194–200. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Masto RE, Chhonkar PK, Singh D, Patra AK (2008) Alternative soil quality indices for evaluating the effect of intensive cropping, fertilisation and manuring for 31 years in the semiarid soils of India. Environ Monit Assess 136:419–435. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Molaeinasab A, Bashari H, Tarkesh Esfahani M, Mosaddeghi MR (2018) Soil surface quality assessment in rangeland ecosystems with different protection levels, central Iran. Catena 171:72–82. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Montanarella L (2015) The global soil partnership. Paper presented at the IOP Conf. Series: Earth and Environmental Science 25 (2015) 012001.Google Scholar
  49. Muñoz-Rojas M (2018) Soil quality indicators: critical tools in ecosystem restoration. Current Opinion in Environmental Science & Health 5:47–52. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Nabiollahi K, Golmohamadi F, Taghizadeh-Mehrjardi R, et al. (2018a) Assessing the effects of slope gradient and land use change on soil quality degradation through digital mapping of soil quality indices and soil loss rate. Geoderma 318:16–28. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Nabiollahi K, Taghizadeh-Mehrjardi R, Eskandari S (2018b) Assessing and monitoring the soil quality of forested and agricultural areas using soil-quality indices and digital soil-mapping in a semi-arid environment. Archives of Agronomy and Soil Science 64:696–707.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Nabiollahi K, Taghizadeh-Mehrjardi R, Kerry R, Moradian S (2017) Assessment of soil quality indices for salt-affected agricultural land in Kurdistan Province, Iran. Ecological indicators 83:482–494.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Nakajima T, Lal R, Jiang S (2015) Soil quality index of a crosby silt loam in central Ohio. Soil and Tillage Research 146:323–328. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Naseby DC, Lynch JM (2002) Enzymes and microorganisms in the rhizosphere. In: Burn RG, Dick RP (eds) Enzymes in the Environment: Activity, Ecology and Applications. Marcel Dekker, New York. pp 109–123.Google Scholar
  55. Nelson RE (1982) Carbonate and gypsum. In: Page AL, Miller RH, Keeney DR (eds.), Methods of Soil Analysis: Chemical and Microbiological Properties. second ed. edn. American Society of Agronomy Inc., Wisconsin. pp 181–197.Google Scholar
  56. Nosrati K (2013) Assessing soil quality indicator under different land use and soil erosion using multivariate statistical techniques. Environmental Monitoring and Assessment 185:2895–2907.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. O’Sullivan L, Creamer RE, Fealy R, et al. (2015) Functional Land Management for managing soil functions: A case-study of the trade-off between primary productivity and carbon storage in response to the intervention of drainage systems in Ireland. Land Use Policy 47:42–54. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Oberholzer HR, Freiermuth Knuchel R, Weisskopf P, Gaillard G (2012) A novel method for soil quality in life cycle assessment using several soil indicators. Agronomy for Sustainable Development 32:639–649. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Palm C, Blanco-Canqui H, DeClerck F, et al. (2014) Conservation agriculture and ecosystem services: An overview. Agriculture, Ecosystems & Environment 187:87–105. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Pham TG, Nguyen HT, Kappas M (2018) Assessment of soil quality indicators under different agricultural land uses and topographic aspects in Central Vietnam. International Soil and Water Conservation Research 6:280–288. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Raiesi F (2017) A minimum data set and soil quality index to quantify the effect of land use conversion on soil quality and degradation in native rangelands of upland arid and semiarid regions. Ecological Indicators 75:307–320. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Raiesi F, Kabiri V (2016) Identification of soil quality indicators for assessing the effect of different tillage practices through a soil quality index in a semi-arid environment. Ecological Indicators 71:198–207. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. Rapport D et al. (1998) Evaluating landscape health: integrating societal goals and biophysical process. Journal of Environmental Management 53:1–15.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. Rezapour S (2014) Response of some soil attributes to different land use types in calcareous soils with Mediterranean type climate in north-west of Iran. Environmental Earth Sciences 71:2199–2210.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  65. Rojas JM, Prause J, Sanzano GA, et al. (2016) Soil quality indicators selection by mixed models and multivariate techniques in deforested areas for agricultural use in NW of Chaco, Argentina. Soil and Tillage Research 155:250–262. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  66. Rutherford PM, McGill WB, Arocena JM, Figueiredo CT (2008) Total nitrogen. In: Carter MR, Gregorich EG (eds.), Soil Sampling and Methods of Analysis. 2 edn. CRC Press, Taylor & Francis Group, Boca Raton. pp 225–237.Google Scholar
  67. Sadeghi SHR (2005) A semi-detailed technique for soil erosion mapping based on BLM and satellite image applications. Journal of Agricultural Science and Technology 7:133–142.Google Scholar
  68. Sánchez-Navarro A, Gil-Vázquez JM, Delgado-Iniesta MJ, et al. (2015) Establishing an index and identification of limiting parameters for characterizing soil quality in Mediterranean ecosystems. Catena 131:35–45. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  69. Sébastien L, Bauler T (2013) Use and influence of composite indicators for sustainable development at the EU-level. Ecological Indicators 35:3–12. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  70. Sharma KL, Mandal UK, Srinivas K, et al. (2005) Long-term soil management effects on crop yields and soil quality in a dryland Alfisol. Soil and Tillage Research 83:246–259. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  71. Skjemstad JO, Baldock JA (2008) Total and organic carbon. In: Carter MR, Gregorich EG (eds) Soil Sampling and Methods of Analysis. 2 edn. CRC Press, Taylor & Francis Group, Boca Raton. pp 225–237.Google Scholar
  72. Spiegel H, Zavattaro L, Guzmán G, et al. (2015) Compatibility of Agricultural Management Practices and Mitigation and Soil Health: Impacts of Soil Management Practices on Crop Productivity, on Indicators for Climate Change Mitigation, and on the Chemical, Physical and Biological Quality of Soil. Deliverable reference number: D3.371,CATCH-C Project.
  73. Stavi I, Lal R (2015) Achieving zero net land degradation: challenges and opportunities. Journal of Arid Environments 112:44–51. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  74. Stolte J, Tesfai M, Oygarden L, et al. (2016) Soil Threats in Europe: Status, methods, drivers and effects on ecosystem services. EUR 27607 EN.
  75. Tabatabai MA (1994) Soil enzymes. In: Weaver RW, Angle JS, Bottomley PJ (eds) Methods of Soil Analysis. Part 2, Microbiological and Biochemical Properties. SSSA, Madison. pp 775–833.Google Scholar
  76. Thoumazeau A, Bessou C, Renevier M-S, et al. (2019) Biofunctool®: a new framework to assess the impact of land management on soil quality. Part A: concept and validation of the set of indicators. Ecological Indicators 97:100–110. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  77. Townend J, Reeve MJ (2001) Water release characteristic. In: Smith KA, Mullins CE (eds.), Soil and Environmental Analysis: Physical Analysis. 2nd edn. CRC Press, New York. pp 95–140.Google Scholar
  78. Turnhout E, Hisschemöller M, Eijsackers H (2007) Ecological indicators: Between the two fires of science and policy. Ecological Indicators 7:215–228. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  79. Van Oost K, Quine T, Govers G, et al. (2007) The impact of agricultural soil erosion on the global carbon cycle. Science 318:626–629.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  80. Vogel HJ, Bartke S, Daedlow K, et al. (2018) A systemic approach for modeling soil functions. Soil 4:83–92. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  81. Wienhold BJ, Andrews SS, Karlen DL (2004) Soil quality: a review of the science and experiences in the USA. Environmental Geochemistry and Health 26:89–95. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  82. Wood M, Litterick AM (2017) Soil health — What should the doctor order? Soil Use and Management 33:339–345. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  83. Yu P, Han D, Liu S, et al. (2018a) Soil quality assessment under different land uses in an alpine grassland. Catena 171:280–287. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  84. Yu P, Liu S, Zhang L, et al. (2018b) Selecting the minimum data set and quantitative soil quality indexing of alkaline soils under different land uses in northeastern China. Science of The Total Environment 616–617:564–571. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  85. Zornoza R, Mataix-Solera J, Guerrero C, et al. (2007) Evaluation of soil quality using multiple lineal regression based on physical, chemical and biochemical properties. Science of the Total Environment 378:233–237.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  86. Zuber SM, Behnke GD, Nafziger ED, Villamil MB (2017) Multivariate assessment of soil quality indicators for crop rotation and tillage in Illinois. Soil and Tillage Research 174:147–155. CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Science Press, Institute of Mountain Hazards and Environment, CAS and Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Physical Geography, School of Earth SciencesShahid Beheshti UniversityTehranIran
  2. 2.Sustainable Agriculture Sciences DepartmentRothamsted Research, North WykeOkehamptonUK

Personalised recommendations