Skip links and keyboard navigation

Substrate productivity

Soil productivity is defined as the capacity of a soil to produce a certain yield of agricultural crops or other plants using a defined set of management practices[1].

Soil productivity in ecosystems is influenced by nutrients which plants and animals need to grow (such as nitrogen and phosphorus). Changes to nutrient concentration and soil productivity can change the ecology of a system, with flow on effects to flora, fauna, food webs and decomposition.

Light is a key driver of productivity. Photo by Gary Cranitch © Queensland Museum

Quick facts

Productivity is something all
organisms contribute to - even small algae can support entire food webs.

Soil and substrate productivity (or soil fertility) directly impacts plant growth. A shortage or absence of essential nutrients can affect plant growth. Increases to the nutrient concentrations in the soil of a wetland can lead to eutrophication (excess nutrient enrichment), an increase in primary production, changes to food webs and even changes to community structure of species in the wetland. Higher nutrient levels also can contribute to the increase of exotic plant species.

The amount of nutrient in soils can depend on:

  • soil components such as pH and texture (clay can influence soil fertility)
  • soil biology, as organisms living in the soil break down animal and plant matter into nutrient forms that can be used by plants
  • soil organic matter, which holds nutrients until they can be taken up by plants
  • soil water, as water in the soil pores carries the nutrients to plant roots
  • use of fertilisers, an excess of a particular nutrient can impede the uptake of others[2].

Productivity in agricultural systems

Productivity refers to the capacity of soil to produce crops and is usually expressed in terms of yields[3]. Soil productivity is not necessarily related to the ‘soil health’ and/or ‘soil quality’. The soil health refers to self-regulation, stability, resilience, and lack of stress symptoms in a soil as an ecosystem and describes the biological integrity of the soil community-the balance among organisms within a soil and between soil organisms and their environment[3].

Soil fertility - Queensland Government


  1. ^ Encyclopedia of soils in the environment (2005), p. 4, Elsevier/Academic Press, Oxford, UK ; Boston, eds. D Hillel & J L Hatfield.
  2. ^ Queensland, , AU & o=The State of, Soil fertility | Soil properties. [online] Available at: [Accessed 13 September 2023].
  3. ^ a b Weil. Ray R. Brady, NC & Weil, RR (2016), The nature and properties of soils, p. 1086, Pearson, Columbus.

Last updated: 19 October 2023

This page should be cited as:

Department of Environment, Science and Innovation, Queensland (2023) Substrate productivity, WetlandInfo website, accessed 25 June 2024. Available at:

Queensland Government
WetlandInfo   —   Department of Environment, Science and Innovation