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H2020

CLIMIFUN Report Summary

Project ID: 702057
Funded under: H2020-EU.1.3.2.

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - CLIMIFUN (Climatic and temporal control on microbial diversity-ecosystem functioning: insights from a novel conceptual model (CLIMIFUN).)

Reporting period: 2016-08-01 to 2018-07-31

Summary of the context and overall objectives of the project

Despite the importance of soil microbial communities for ecosystem functioning and human welfare, little is known about the mechanisms controlling the biodiversity of these communities, and the role of their attributes in regulating key ecosystem processes such as nutrient cycling. Many studies have identified the ecological drivers of plant and animal diversity. However, much less is known about the interactive effects of multiple ecological drivers (e.g., climate, soil properties etc) in regulating microbial diversity and ecosystem attributes. This lack of knowledge hampers our ability to predict microbial community shifts and their consequences for ecosystem functioning under climate change, and limits the inclusion of soil microbes in global biogeochemical models.

The main research objective of this action is to gain a deeper insight into the global patterns and mechanisms that drive soil microbial diversity and ecosystem processes under changing environments. We are using a novel conceptual framework combining multiple ecological predictors, climate change experiments and structural equation modelling to quantitatively evaluate the role of the multiple ecological drivers of microbial diversity and ecosystem processes. The research outlined in this proposal includes a range of state-of-the-art biochemical, molecular and genomic methods for the analysis of microbial communities and ecosystem processes that ensure the maximum utility and impact of our results. Altogether, CLIMIFUN will reveal the factors that control soil microbial diversity and key ecosystem processes (e.g., nutrient cycling) under changing environments. This work will thus address a key knowledge gap relevant to supporting increases in global demand for food and fiber over the next decades, and a research priority for H2020.

Work performed from the beginning of the project to the end of the period covered by the report and main results achieved so far

CLIMIFUN have led to the first global atlas of dominant bacterial taxa. Here, we showed that only 2% of bacterial phylotypes (~500 phylotypes) consistently accounted for almost half of the soil bacterial communities worldwide. Despite the overwhelming diversity of bacterial communities, relatively few bacterial taxa are abundant in soils globally. We clustered these dominant taxa into ecological groups to build the first global atlas of soil bacterial taxa, published in Science in January (Delgado-Baquerizo et al. 2018. Science 359: 320–325). A major breakthrough of this study is that habitat preferences are not predictable from phylum-level identity alone, given that all of the ecological clusters included phylotypes from multiple phyla. By narrowing down the number of phylotypes to be targeted in future studies from tens of thousands to a few hundred, our study paves the way for a more predictive understanding of soil bacterial communities, which is critical for accurately forecasting the ecological consequences of ongoing global environmental change.

CLIMIFUN has also shed some light on the importance of long-term palaeoclimatic conditions (Last Glacial Maximum and mid-Holocene) in shaping the current structure of soil bacterial communities in natural and agricultural soils, published in Nature Ecology and Evolution (Delgado-Baquerizo et al. 2017. Nature Ecology and Evolution 1: 1339-1347). We found that palaeoclimate explains more of the variation in the richness and composition of bacterial communities than current climate. Moreover, palaeoclimate accounts for a unique fraction of this variation that cannot be predicted from geographical location, current climate, soil properties or plant diversity. The ability to predict the distribution of soil bacteria from either palaeoclimate or current climate declines greatly in agricultural soils, highlighting the fact that anthropogenic activities have a strong influence on soil bacterial diversity. This study illustrates how climatic legacies help to explain the current distribution of soil bacteria in natural ecosystems, and advocate that climatic legacies should be considered when predicting microbial responses to climate change.

CLIMIFUN also investigated the importance of microbial communities as predictor of multifunctionality resistance (C, N and P cycling) to climate change and nitrogen fertilization. This work was published in Ecology Letters in September 2017 (Delgado-Baquerizo et al. 2017. Ecology Letters 20: 1295–1305). Microbial diversity had a direct positive effect on multifunctionality after accounting for multiple soil and climatic predictors. Multifunctionality resistance was regulated by changes in microbial composition (relative abundance of phylotypes), but not by richness, total abundance of fungi and bacteria or the fungal: bacterial ratio. Our results suggest that positive effects of particular microbial taxa on multifunctionality resistance could potentially be controlled by altering soil pH. Together, this work demonstrated strong links between microbial community composition and multifunctionality resistance in soils from six continents, and provide insights into the importance of microbial community composition for buffering effects of global change in terrestrial ecosystems worldwide.

Progress beyond the state of the art and expected potential impact (including the socio-economic impact and the wider societal implications of the project so far)

So far, CLIMIFUN has led to multiple communication and dissemination items. The results from CLIMIFUN have been disseminated in multiple international conferences including (1) Biocrust3. Third International Workshop on Biological Soil Crusts. Arizona, USA (September 2016), (2) 2nd Global Soil Biodiversity Conference. Nanjing, China (October 2017, Keynote speaker) and (3) the international conference: MEDECOS XIV International Conference & XIII AEET Meeting, Sevilla (January 2017). CLIMIFUN has also delivered informal talks to citizens.

Results from CLIMIFUN are constantly being advertised at Twitter (https://twitter.com/ManuDelBaq). Moreover, CLIMIFUN have resulted in multiple media items including radio shows (e.g., http://cienciaes.com/entrevistas/2018/02/23/mapa-mundial-de-bacterias/ and https://www.srf.ch/sendungen/wissenschaftsmagazin/forscher-erobern-den-sendeturm-beromuenster), and media press releases having a strong impact in the media in Europe and elsewhere (e.g., ABC, https://www.abc.es/ciencia/abci-crean-primer-mapa-global-universo-bacterias-suelos-tierra-201801182022_noticia.html, El País https://elpais.com/elpais/2018/01/18/ciencia/1516289742_174723.html, OPB, https://www.opb.org/news/article/npr-scientists-peek-inside-the-black-box-of-soil-microbes-to-learn-their-secrets/, NPR, https://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2018/01/18/578924748/scientists-peek-inside-the-black-box-of-soil-microbes-to-learn-their-secrets?utm_medium=RSS&utm_campaign=storiesfromnpr, to name a few).

The results from CLIMIFUN have also been discussed in the international and prestigious blog of Nature Ecology and Evolution: https://natureecoevocommunity.nature.com/users/58180-manuel-delgado-baquerizo.
Finally, the scientific work derived from CLIMIFUN is available online via https://zenodo.org/search?page=1&size=20&q=delgado-baquerizo and open access journals such as Science Advances (e.g., http://advances.sciencemag.org/content/3/4/e1602008).
During its last year, CLIMIFUN will evaluate the effects of induced climate change on microbial communities and ecosystem processes in ecosystems from the Iberian peninsula, which will will yield significant new insights on the mechanisms driving soil biodiversity and ecosystem processes under climate change scenarios.

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