e-Science : October 2015 Issue 15
THE SECRET LIFE OF SOIL Despite the challenges of working with the soil and the microbes that live in it, recent advances in the fields of soil ecology, soil science and ecogenomics are giving us the tools to study soil microbes at an unprecedented level of detail and resolution. The Soil Ecology Research Group at the University of Adelaide is using these tools to describe the diversity of microbes in the soil and to link this information to the functions the microbes provide. This includes work on topics ranging from climate change mitigation, through crop growth and nutrition to food and wine quality. RESOURCES nutrients that plants need to grow, but at the moment a lot of these nutrients end up in landfill or other waste disposal facilities. Lately, there has been increased interest in making better use of the nutrients tied up in organic matter and waste materials including greenwaste, crop residues or even sewage sludge. The Soil Ecology Research Group at the University of Adelaide has been investigating the potential to use these waste materials, after subjecting them to different processes like composting and incineration, as fertilisers to support crop growth. A key component of this work involves discovering the role of soil microbes in releasing these nutrients from the waste materials and then delivering them to plants in a reliable and predictable manner. Click for slideshow Inorganic fertilisers have be instrumental in increasing food production, but with some fertilisers becoming increasingly scarce and expensive, we also need to consider other options for providing crops with nutrients. As global food demand and production increases, so too will the generation of waste materials. These waste materials can be rich in the Soil and the climate Another key area of research by the soil ecology group is how environmental stress and changes in land management have an impact on soil microbes and the ecosystem services that they provide. This includes work on the potential of soils to store carbon to mitigate climate change. One project we’re running is a landscapescale survey of how reforesting areas around agricultural land changes the level of soil carbon and relating this to the microbes that decompose plant material. The group is also investigating the impacts of drought on specific groups of microbes (mycorrhizal fungi) that help plants to take up nutrients. The implications of this work will be of increasing importance given current projections of a drier and more variable climate.
July 2015 Issue 14
Feb 2016 Issue 16