Soil biota – what lies beneath?

  • Soil biota is a diverse and an often over-looked element of natural ecosystems providing an array of essential ecosystem services.
  • Microbes can be useful indicators of environmental or ecosystem change and there is a need to ensure the soil microbe component of a particular system is preserved, particularly at managed sites.
  • A technology known as metagenomics was presented by the European Bioinformatics Institute at the recent Cambridge Conservation Forum. The innovative methodology allows DNA identification of organisms present in a soil sample with the potential to detect species both past and present at a site.
  • The use of genetic barcodes to detect soil microbes is becoming more widely available and allows changes (for better or worse) in soil microbe communities to be mapped. This is a valuable tool for determining if soil diversity at a site is being lost or if particular practices are, in fact, beneficial for microbial communities.
Soil health has been overlooked in the past and so considering its importance in ecosystem health is relatively new and tools such as metagenomics make the issue more approachable. Weight needs to be given to the function of microscopic organisms, especially those in the soil. These often play a crucial role in the maintenance of ecosystems, productivity of agricultural systems, and the existence of particular species which are the target of conservation efforts.
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About annaarathe

Research fellow, horizon scanning
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