Urban soil health: A city-wide survey of chemical and biological properties of urban agriculture soils

M. J. Salomon, S. J. Watts-Williams, M. J. McLaughlin, T. R. Cavagnaro

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

30 Citations (Scopus)


The integration of urban green spaces into modern city planning is seen as a promising tool to offset the drawbacks of ever-expanding cities. Urban agriculture is a common method to implement such strategies and to increase urban sustainability with a special focus on food security. Due to their location, urban farms are highly influenced by past and present anthropogenic activities which can threaten both soil health and food safety. This study includes 12 urban agriculture sites in the metropolitan area of Adelaide, Australia. It is the first of its kind to focus on soil health in urban agriculture systems with a further emphasis on mycorrhizal fungi. Descriptive information about each site, the biodiversity of the selected plots and soil samples from different depths and locations were collected and analysed for chemical and biological parameters. Seven metals, total and plant-available (Colwell) phosphorus and available nitrogen were measured in soils. A glasshouse bioassay was also conducted to determine the abundance of beneficial arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi in the soils and the change of root colonization after inoculation with the mycorrhizal fungus Rhizophagus irregularis. Results showed a generally high biodiversity of plants that correlated with site activity (commercial or community garden) and which could potentially be used for urban biodiversity conservation. Metal concentrations in soils were below national guidelines levels for all samples, although sites with previous industrial history showed elevated levels when compared to sites without industrial history. The use of raised beds with introduced soils eliminated differences in previous land-use history, thereby providing a good option to support cleaner production. Gardening soils were considered highly fertile, with plant-available (Colwell) P concentrations exceeding recommended levels for most horticultural crops, while soils were adequately supplied with nitrogen. Most plant nutrients were derived from freely available urban waste streams and integrated via composting. Various urban waste streams could be used to counter-act imbalanced soil nutrients. Arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi were present in all sites, indicating that the practiced soil management is sustainable from a microbial perspective. Given their important role in supporting plant nutrition, and potential to reduce the need for external nutrient inputs, they provide an important focal point for achieving clean and sustainable urban food production. The results were incorporated into a framework for the management of urban soil health.

Original languageEnglish
Article number122900
Number of pages11
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2020
Externally publishedYes


  • Arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi
  • Biological
  • Chemical
  • Soil
  • South Australia
  • Urban agriculture


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