Many studies have identified climate, the stage of an ecosystem’s development, and soil characteristics as the main drivers of plant and animal diversity. However, much less is known about the interactive effects of climate, soil properties and time in controlling microbial diversity and multifunctionality during ecosystem succession. This lack of scientific knowledge hampers scientists’ ability to predict shifts in the microbial community, and their consequences for ecosystem functioning under climate change. It also limits the inclusion of soil microbes in global biogeochemical models. The CLIMIFUN project addressed this knowledge gap by investigating the global patterns and mechanisms that drive soil microbial diversity and ecosystem processes under changing environments. “By conducting experiments and global field surveys we have increased our understanding of major global patterns and mechanisms across global biomes and during soil formation,” says Marie Skłodowska-Curie research fellow Manuel Delgado-Baquerizo.
An international effort
Scientists from over 30 institutions conducted a global survey, collecting field data from 9 countries and 6 continents. “The greatest challenge was in developing standardised protocols for surveying vegetation and surveys from diverse environments, such as arid ecosystems to tropical forests, and that were easy to follow by all types of researchers from field ecologists to molecular biologists,” Delgado-Baquerizo explains. Ground-breaking results revealed the fate of soil biodiversity over millions of years of ecosystem development, and supported the first global atlas of soil biodiversity. “As the role of time in controlling the distribution of soil organisms remains largely unexplored, especially at the global scale, CLIMIFUN constitutes a pioneer study in this area,” comments Delgado-Baquerizo. The project also provides new evidence that soil biodiversity controls the responses of ecosystem functions to global change drivers. Furthermore, it identified, for the first time, the role of past climates in controlling the current distributions of soil biodiversity at the global scale. Furthermore, CLIMIFUN identified those locations on Earth where unknown taxa are expected to be found and characterised over the next few years.
Aid to conservation
CLIMIFUN provided vital insights into the natural history of the biodiversity of soil bacteria, fungi, protists and invertebrates in terrestrial ecosystems across the major global biomes. According to Delgado-Baquerizo: “Our work showed that, as soil develops, changes in soil biodiversity are driven by changes in plant cover and acidification over millennia.” The initiative also provided a fundamental understanding of the role of soil biodiversity in supporting ecosystem functioning, from fertility to plant production, and in driving the responses of ecosystem functions to global change. In addition, it quantified the importance of ecological memory in controlling ecosystem functions and soil biodiversity globally. Knowledge derived from CLIMIFUN will benefit scientists, conservationists, land managers, teachers, and policymakers. “The global atlas for example, provides basic information for teaching the global distribution of soil organisms – as has been done for plants for decades. It also includes information on those locations that need to be protected to maintain soil biodiversity around the world. Moreover, it further raises new important challenges and research lines for researchers aiming to identify the dominant taxa in soils across the globe,” Delgado-Baquerizo concludes.
CLIMIFUN, soil, ecosystem, biodiversity, microbial, biome, decomposition, nutrient recycling