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The Soil Biology Primer

For farmers, ranchers, ag professionals, resource specialists, conservationists, soil scientists, students and educators.

Cover of Soil Biology Primer as published by SWCSThe Soil Biology Primer is an introduction to the living component of soil and how it contributes to agricultural productivity, and air and water quality. The Primer includes units describing the soil food web and its relationship to soil health, and units about bacteria, fungi, protozoa, nematodes, arthropods, and earthworms. 

The Primer was originally produced by the NRCS Soil Quality Institute. It is now published by the Soil and Water Conservation Society (SWCS). How to order: Order from the SWCS web site at (click on Publications and then Books), or call 1-800-THE-SOIL, or e-mail


About the on-line version: The Soil Biology Primer was originally published as a 50-page booklet. The on-line version below includes all the text of the original but not all the images of soil organisms. The full story of the soil food web is more easily understood with the help of the illustrations in the printed version. 

Cover of Soil Biology Primer for original printing

Original cover as published by NRCS.

Table of Contents

The Soil Food Web
The Food Web & Soil Health
Soil Bacteria
Soil Fungi
Soil Protozoa
Soil Nematodes
Soil Arthropods
Further Reading

How to cite the Soil Biology Primer

Copyright restrictions: Many photographs on this site cannot be used on other web sites or for other purposes without explicit permission from the copyright owners. The text, graphs, tables, and photos from USDA sources may be used freely, but please credit the Soil Biology Primer or this web site. Also, as a courtesy, e-mail the webmaster of this site to let us know how you are using this material. 


The Soil Quality Institute of the Natural Resources Conservation Service, with assistance from the Conservation Technology Information Center, provided leadership for this project. The Natural Resources Conservation Service and the Soil and Water Conservation Society thank many individuals, including the following, for their contributions.

Elaine R. Ingham
Andrew R. Moldenke, Oregon State University
Clive A. Edwards, The Ohio State University

Arlene J. Tugel, NRCS Soil Quality Institute
Ann M. Lewandowski, NRCS Soil Quality Institute
Deb Happe-vonArb, Soil and Water Conservation Society

DesignGroup Inc.

Nancy K. Marshall, Marshall Designs

Reviewers (Not all reviewed all chapters)
Jayne Belnap, National Park Service
Edwin Berry, USDA-ARS, National Soil Tilth Lab, Ames, IA
David C. Coleman, University of Georgia
Jeff Herrick, USDA-ARS, Las Cruces, NM
Ann Kennedy, USDA-ARS, Pullman, WA
Dennis Linden, USDA-ARS,St. Paul, MN
Jean Molina, University of Minnesota
Kate Scow, University of California, Davis


How to Cite the Soil Biology Primer

Citation for this web page:
Tugel, A.J., A.M. Lewandowski, eds. (February 2001 -- last update). Soil Biology Primer [online]. Available:   [access date]. 

Either of the following are correct citations for the current edition of the booklet:
Tugel, Arlene, Ann Lewandowski, Deb Happe-vonArb, eds. 2000. Soil Biology Primer. Rev. ed. Ankeny, Iowa: Soil and Water Conservation Society.

Soil and Water Conservation Society (SWCS). 2000. Soil Biology Primer. Rev. ed. Ankeny, Iowa: Soil and Water Conservation Society.

Citation for the first edition of the booklet:
Tugel, A.J., A.M. Lewandowski, eds.1999. Soil Biology Primer. NRCS Soil Quality Institute, Ames, IA.

Page updated: August 2001
Page URL:

Copyright ©2002 All Rights Reserved