Digging up Dirt on Soil Microbes
The study of soil microbial communities has been heralded as the final frontier in the understanding of land-based ecosystems. A single gram of soil can contain hundreds of millions of micro-organisms that play vital roles in the functioning of ecosystems. Scientists are only beginning to understand the roles soil microbial communities play in Canada’s forests and peatlands, and how they can counteract pressures caused by increasing environmental change.
Canada’s vast forest and wetland ecosystems support vital natural resource sectors and have an impact on water quality and the functioning of aquatic ecosystems. They also store a substantial amount of atmospheric carbon in soils and play important roles in the global climate by sequestering and emitting greenhouse gasses.
Dr. Nathan Basiliko, Canada Research Chair in Environmental Microbiology, is making strides in understanding the role microbes play in the functioning and resilience of these ecosystems.
It is exceptionally challenging to link microscopic organisms to such big-picture questions as how a forest regrows after harvest or how a landscape responds to chronic pollution from industrial activities. Basiliko is making the link through a combination of molecular-genetic and physiological techniques to characterize the structure and function of soil microbial communities. He is also conducting field-based measurements to understand nutrient and greenhouse gas cycles.
Basiliko’s research will improve our understanding about how ecosystems react to environmental stress. It will also increase our understanding about how soil microbes shape the environment and guide ecosystem managers to make the best decisions to ensure ecosystem sustainability.