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

red line

NEVER MISS A STORY

Geographical Week

Get the best of Geographical delivered straight to your inbox by signing up to our free weekly newsletter!

red line

Related items

Geographical Week

Get the best of Geographical delivered straight to your inbox every Friday.

Subscribe to Geographical!

Adventure Canada

EDUCATION PARTNERS

Aberystwyth University University of Greenwich The University of Winchester

TRAVEL PARTNERS

Ponant

Silversea

Travel the Unknown

DOSSIERS

Like longer reads? Try our in-depth dossiers that provide a comprehensive view of each topic

  • National Clean Air Day
    For National Clean Air Day, Geographical brings together stories about air pollution and the kind of solutions needed to tackle it ...
    The Air That We Breathe
    Cities the world over are struggling to improve air quality as scandals surrounding diesel car emissions come to light and the huge health costs of po...
    Mexico City: boom town
    Twenty years ago, Mexico City was considered the ultimate urban disaster. But, recent political and economic reforms have transformed it into a hub of...
    Hung out to dry
    Wetlands are vital storehouses of biodiversity and important bulwarks against the effects of climate change, while also providing livelihoods for mill...
    The Nuclear Power Struggle
    The UK appears to be embracing nuclear, a huge U-turn on government policy from just two years ago. Yet this seems to be going against the grain globa...

MORE DOSSIERS

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

International shipping may be attempting to reduce its carbon footprint, but…

Geophoto

So much photographic theory is dedicated to image sharpness that…

Wildlife

Changing temperatures in East Africa are set to upset a delicate…

Climate

As the planet warms and tensions rise, Marco Magrini finds that…

Oceans

A deep-sea mission in the ocean around Bermuda confirms the…

Oceans

An oxygen-deprived ‘dead zone’ in the Arabian Sea is much…

Wildlife

Scientists working with new drone technology are hoping to reveal…

Oceans

A new virtual reality experience, ‘BBC Earth: Life in VR’,…

Nature

Faced with protecting a country more than 30 times the…

Oceans

As Chile’s president leaves office, the country designates large expanses…

Energy

More than two years after first being announced, the International…

Wildlife

The winner of the 2018 Whitley Gold Award is Pablo…

Polar

Celebrate World Penguin Day with this selection of penguin-related stories…

Geophoto

It takes a lot more than the latest research data…

Wildlife

NGOs shine a light on the underreporting of wildlife crime…

Wildlife

Pioneering laser photography is being used by scientists on the…

Geophoto

Annual competition looks to celebrate island life in all its…

Oceans

Increasing interest in offshore aquaculture is dividing environmentalists

Energy

Well-meaning promises don’t always have positive outcomes. Marco Magrini finds…

Wildlife

The RSPB introduces a new hotline for reporting the unlawful…