Soil erosion can be naturally caused by wind or rain. It results in a loss of topsoil, which exposes underlying soil to the elements and increases carbon dioxide release. Soil erosion is usually a slow, natural process that is not particularly detrimental to ecosystems. However, in some cases it can happen quickly and unexpectedly, which has a significant impact on plants, climate, water and wildlife.
Effects on Plants
Since rapid soil erosion results in a loss of topsoil, it can have a detrimental effect on plants. According to the Iowa State University Extension, soil erosion results in a lessened soil water capacity, as well as loss of nutrients and carbon, which all have negative effects on crop productivity. This consequence is of particular concern for farmers, who may lose a significant amount of their crop yield due to soil erosion.
Effects on Water
The effects of soil erosion are not by any means restricted to the soil and the plants it contains. Soil erosion can also lead to offsite water quality issues. When eroded topsoil passes into water sources, it increases the amount of phosphorus and nitrogen in the water. This decreases water oxygen levels, leading to poor water quality. Pesticides and other harmful chemicals in the topsoil can also find their way into water sources.
According to the World Wildlife Fund, increased soil erosion may actually contribute to even larger problems for ecosystems, such as flooding. Since the topsoil can no longer absorb rainwater, areas that are already susceptible to flooding may experience an increased rate of flooding. This effect has been observed in the banana plantations with inadequate drainage capabilities.
Effects on Wildlife
The negative effects of soil erosion have a domino effect on wildlife. Since loss of topsoil decreases water quality, fish, algae and animals will suffer the consequences. According to the World Wildlife Fund, a group of Brazilian Indians reported significant decreases in fish numbers, which are due to agricultural soil erosion and increased pesticide runoff. Excess topsoil may also cover over fish breeding grounds and contaminate downstream waters.