On-going human population growth and changing patterns of resource consumption are increasing global demand for ecosystem services, many of which are provided by soils. Some of these ecosystem services are linearly related to the surface area of pervious soil, whereas others show non-linear relationships, making ecosystem service optimization a complex task.
As limited land availability creates conflicting demands among various types of land use, a central challenge is how to weigh these conflicting interests and how to achieve the best solutions possible from a perspective of sustainable societal development. These conflicting interests become most apparent in soils that are the most heavily used by humans for specific purposes: urban soils used for green spaces, housing, and other infrastructure and agricultural soils for producing food, fibres and biofuels.
We argue that, despite their seemingly divergent uses of land, agricultural and urban soils share common features with regards to interactions between ecosystem services, and that the trade-offs associated with decision-making, while scale- and context-dependent, can be surprisingly similar between the two systems. We propose that the trade-offs within land use types and their soil-related ecosystems services are often disproportional, and quantifying these will enable ecologists and soil scientists to help policy makers optimizing management decisions when confronted with demands for multiple services under limited land availability.