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DNA sequencing measures soil ecosystem health

Researchers have furthered knowledge at the interface of climate change and soil microbial ecology.
DNA sequencing measures soil ecosystem health
Climate change can shift the species composition within a community, leading to loss in biodiversity. However, relatively little is known about such changes in microbial communities, in spite of their critical importance for ecosystem health.

As microorganisms adapt faster to local conditions than plants and other large organisms, they are ideal indicators for monitoring change. By utilising steep mountainous areas, variation in soil and temperature can be used to simulate potential impacts caused by climate change on the composition of microbial communities.

The EU-funded MICROBS (Assessing the effects of climate change on soil ecosystem functioning using an established alpine microbial observatory) project used next-generation sequencing to survey the diversity patterns of soil microbial communities along an altitudinal gradient in response to climate change.

Over a period of 3 years, scientists sampled at 1 500 to 2 600 m above sea level, using sequencing to profile the communities of prokaryotes, fungi and other microbial eukaryotes in these communities. Results show that both prokaryotic and fungal communities were related to altitude, and thus average yearly temperature.

MICROBS also found that the diversity and community structure of prokaryotic, fungal and eukaryotic species were linked, illustrating the importance of interactions between microbes. However, other factors appeared to have a stronger effect on community structure – for example, carbon-to-nitrogen ratio, and temporal variation.

Although the study did not find a straightforward way to use microbial communities as indicators of climate change, the methods produced were valuable. Consequently, the outcomes of MICROBS could be very valuable for designing and interpreting future work at the interface of climate change and soil microbial ecology.

Related information


Soil, ecosystem health, climate change, microbial communities, fungi, prokaryotic
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