Our directory of things of interest

University Directory

The unusual soil-spects

The unusual soil-spects
10 Mar
2018
First global atlas of soil bacteria reveals a small minority of species have dominated world soils

The dirt is alive with a million bacteria, but it appears they have unequal levels of representation. Researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder have created the world’s first atlas of soil microbes, and have found that a small number of species represent more than half of their populations worldwide. ‘A teaspoon of soil can have a million bacteria individuals, or cells,’ says Manuel Delgado-Baquerizo, soil ecologist. ‘Each of these can belong to one of thousands of different species.’

Delgado-Baquerizo’s research was designed to discover the proportion of different types of bacteria species across the globe. However, he found that the same species kept reappearing. ‘Of more than 25,000 bacteria species, we found that just 500 – two per cent of the total – accounted for half of the species in soils everywhere.’

When he says everywhere, he means everywhere. ‘We collected soil samples from 237 different locations across six continents and 18 countries,’ he lists. ‘They spanned an entire range of climates, from deserts to grasslands to wetlands.’ Variations of the 500 turned up in all of them.

Although microbes make up a large portion of the ecosystem’s biodiversity, little is known about what particular species can do. ‘We know that soil microbes are key for processes such as plant production, nutrient cycling, breaking down toxins, even climate regulation,’ says Delgado-Baquerizo. ‘What we don’t know is which species are doing it, even among the most common.’

The new atlas could help researchers focus on the most abundant 500 species – a ‘most-wanted list’ – to determine what they are doing in world soils and why they are so dominant. Understanding their role in the ecosystem could hold the key to maintaining and enhancing soils in the future.

This was published in the March 2018 edition of Geographical magazine

geo line break v3

Free eBooks - Geographical Newsletter

Get the best of Geographical delivered straight to your inbox by signing up to our weekly newsletter and get a free collection of eBooks!

geo line break v3

Related items

NEVER MISS A STORY - Follow Geographical on Social

Want to stay up to date with breaking Geographical stories? Join the thousands following us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram and stay informed about the world.

More articles in NATURE...

Climate

Protestors from the global south were physically removed yesterday from…

Climate

Climate NGOs point fingers at nations holding back climate crisis…

Climate

The Paris Agreement has reached adolescence. Its final stages of…

Climate

A report presented at COP25 highlights the trouble with tourism,…

Climate

For the 25th time in history, the United Nations has…

Wildlife

The Wildlife Photographer of the Year’s Rising Star winner brings…

Energy

Abandoned coal mines contain a precious resource in the warm…

Climate

Marco Magrini wonders if the annual gathering of world leadership…

Wildlife

A new animation produced by the charity Born Free raises…

Wildlife

The United States is grappling with a wild pig invasion.…

Wildlife

Increased interest in the farming of endangered animals as a…

Geophoto

Will 2019 go down as the year that the world…

Climate

Large-scale air travel is under public scrutiny, and refusing to…

Climate

A review of climate crisis coverage in the global media…

Oceans

Marco Magrini looks at the carbon capturing power of the ocean’s…

Oceans

Marine Protected Areas are designed to benefit the marine ecosystem…

Climate

The link between China’s economic growth and increased pollution has…

Climate

An analysis of nine year’s worth of lightning data, covering…

Climate

When getting on ‘board’ with sustainability is the entire goal

Oceans

Many scientists believe that jellyfish numbers are increasing, pointing to…