Course Unit Page

  • Teacher Marcello Di Bonito

  • Credits 4

  • SSD AGR/14

  • Teaching Mode Traditional lectures

  • Language Italian

  • Campus of Bologna

  • Degree Programme Second cycle degree programme (LM) in Precise and Sustainable Agriculture (cod. 5705)

Academic Year 2022/2023

Learning outcomes

Upon completion of the course, the student understanding the importance of the soil resource globally and identify the main threats regarding soil degradation, loss of fertility and biodiversity. In particular, the student possesses the skills to acquire the methodologies managed through a suitable soil information system (GIS) to conduct advanced technical analyses on the state of degradation (erosion, pollution and salinization) of the soils. Moreover the student demonstrate critical awareness in evaluating different aspects regarding sustainable land management.

Course contents


Students accessing this course must have a good understanding of the fundamentals of soil chemistry and biochemistry, as well as having the basic notions of pedology and soil science. They must also know the main factors that regulate the evolution of the soil, with particular reference to climatic characteristics, the biotic component, lithology, and the main pedogenetic processes of addition, removal, transformation and translocation. The student must have a good knowledge of the English language since the course is held entirely in English.

Theoretical content of the teaching unit (total teaching unit: 24 hours)

  1. Introduction to the concepts of Soil thematic strategy, land capability, land suitability. Soils as resources and threats to their conservation: erosion, desertification, diversity loss (bio- and pedodiversity), domestication, loss of organic matter and carbon, salinization, sealing (loss of stricture), flooding and landslides, compaction, nutrient loss, contamination (chemical and physical). Introduction to the FAO soil status.
  2. Ecosystem goods and services and functions linked to soils and the tools developed around them: the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MEA), The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB), the Common Classification of Ecosystem Services (CICES) and OpenNESS, provision (nutrition, materials, energy), regulation and maintenance (mediation of waste, toxics and other nuisances, mediation of flows, maintenance of physical, chemical and biological conditions) and cultural services (physical, intellectual, spiritual and symbolic interactions with biota, ecosystems, and land-/seascapes).
  3. Soil conservation and sustainable development goals (SDG). FAO Global soil partnerships regional, European and Asian partnerships, links with SDGs, FAO Soil Sustainable Management (SSM) protocol, Climate Smart Agriculture (CSA). Digital Soil map for conservation (Soil 2026, US case study). Agenda 23, available GIS databases, ISRIC/FAO.
  4. Concepts of Ecological restoration and the role of soil. Key developments (e.g., work of Nolan et al., 2021), Global Soil Biodiversity Initiative, Kiss the Ground, and national societies and institutes (e.g., British Society for Soil Science, Soil Science Society of America and Soil Health Institute).

Practical content of the teaching unit (total teaching unit 24 hours).

  1. Exploration of the Natural Capital project and tools related (e.g., InVEST).
  2. Practice of Digital soil mapping in QGIS and SAGA environments.
  3. Use of terrain and hydropedology tools in QGIS and SAGA environments.
  4. Use of relevant QGIS (and/or other GIS environments) tools and plugins for land and soil management (e.g, Trend.Earth, LecoS).


The use of the material and lecture notes provided by the teacher (available on Insegnamenti OnLine) will provide the backbone of the course.

The consultation of the following textbooks and material is advised for a better understanding of the material presented in class:

  1. Frossard, E., Blum, W.E.H., and Warkentin, B.P. (2006). Function of soils for human societies and the environment. Geological Society, Special publication 266.
  2. Stanturf, J.A., and Callaham, Mac A. (2021). Soils and landscape restoration. Academic Press.
  3. FAO-ITPS (2020). Protocol for the assessment of Sustainable Soil Management. Rome, FAO.
  4. FAO and ITPS (2015). Status of the World’s Soil Resources (SWSR) – Main Report. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and Intergovernmental Technical Panel on Soils, Rome, Italy.
  5. Nair, K.P. 2019. Intelligent soil management for sustainable agriculture. Springer.
  6. Natural Capital Project - InVEST 

Teaching methods

The course consists of lectures and practical exercises in the IT laboratory and (if appropriate) in the field. The IT laboratory activities are mainly focused on software and analytical tools that can be used for a variety of scenarios. These will be integrated and augmented with data management (the organization of dataset of pedological, chemical and physical characteristics of the soils), the use of digital soil maps, and other applications for soil management.

Assessment methods

Students attending the course will be assessed through:

  1. A recorded audio podcast (or alternative inclusive option) and
  2. A written exam

Students will have to prepare an audio podcast (or alternative, inclusive option, plus its entire script in written format) of 10 minutes, which will be focused on one chosen soil threat (e.g., erosion, salinization, nutrient loss, contamination, etc.), and the current options for its sustainable management, using examples and case studies as appropriate. The second part of the assessment will be a written examination of about 120 minutes to cover the main parts thought during the course.

The two elements of the assessment are designed to ascertain the level of knowledge and understanding acquired during the course, but also allow students to express their creativity to design their own piece around a preferred topic (podcast). Both elements of the assessment will contribute to the final grade.

Teaching tools

Computer, webcam, projector, Power-point presentations, communication and collaboration platforms (e.g., TEAMS), e-learning platforms (e.g., Kahoot), field and lab tools.

Office hours

See the website of Marcello Di Bonito