Nav: Home

Restoring sand dunes, one microbe at a time

October 10, 2016

Sand dunes pull double duty -- offering a visual treat both for their undulating curves and their ability to attract birds and other wildlife, while affording protection from storm surges and the threat of rising sea levels.

But conservationists have discovered that restoring sand dunes isn't as simple as dredging sand from Gulf floor and plopping it onshore. Plants transplanted to the new dunes, an important step in stabilizing the sand, seldom thrive.

Kerri Crawford, assistant professor of biology and biochemistry at the University of Houston, has been funded by the Texas Sea Grant program -- which is supported by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration -- to study the coastal dune ecosystem in Galveston and along the Texas coast.

Efforts in Galveston to rebuild sand dunes along the beach have met with mixed success, as many of the native plants used in the restoration projects don't survive, said Crawford, a plant ecologist who studies diverse plant communities and who is working with the nonprofit Artist Boat on the project.

"We're looking at, is there something we can do better to promote plant growth and stabilize the dunes?" she said. "The first thing I think of is, are they missing the microbial community the plants are used to? Sand dunes are pretty hostile environments for plants, and the right microbes can help."

Sand used to rebuild dunes, generally dredged from the Gulf floor or the Houston Ship Channel, is unlikely to have the soil microbes that promote healthy plant communities, she said. Tests showed the restored dunes and beaches had low levels of arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi, a type of fungus found coexisting with about 80 percent of terrestrial plants, for example.

In tests conducted at the UH Coastal Center, about 30 miles south of the main campus, Crawford is using the fungus in a series of experiments, set up in 100-gallon pots of sand seeded with two species of grasses native to the Texas coast, bitter panicum and sea oats.

While the fungus often works in tandem with plants, sending out shoots to forage for nutrients in exchange for absorbing carbon produced by photosynthesis, it also can overwhelm some species. To determine what soil microbes are needed - and how those microbes can affect plant diversity - Crawford will study the impact of both arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi and soil samples taken from natural plant communities in Galveston. Ultimately, they will collect soil samples and isolate and sequence the soil DNA, in addition to studying how plants perform under varying conditions.

Once the initial plant colonies are established, researchers will seed the pots with additional native plant species to determine how the addition of the microbes affects broader plant diversity.

"Maybe it helps the (original) plants and improves dune stability, but could it affect other plant species?" Crawford asked. "We hope to see that treatment leads to greater growth and stability but doesn't crowd out other species."
-end-


University of Houston

Related Microbes Articles:

Microbes seen controlling action of host's genes
Duke researchers have shown that microbes can control their animal hosts by manipulating the molecular machinery of their cells, triggering patterns of gene expression that consequently contribute to health and disease.
Three-way dance between herbivores, plants and microbes unveiled
What looks like a caterpillar chewing on a leaf or a beetle consuming fruit is likely a three-way battle that benefits most, if not all of the players involved, according to a Penn State entomologist.
Vitamin B12: Power broker to the microbes
In the microbial world, vitamin B12 is a hot commodity.
Gut microbes and bird's breath from the U at #SICB2017
University of Utah researchers will be among the scientists convening in New Orleans for the 2017 Annual Meeting for the Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology Jan.
Gut microbes contribute to recurrent 'yo-yo' obesity
New research in mice may in the future help dieters keep the weight off.
Digital microbes for munching yourself healthy
A research team at the Luxembourg Centre for Systems Biomedicine (LCSB) of the University of Luxembourg has taken an important step in modelling the complexity of the human gut's bacterial communities -- the microbiome -- on the computer.
How gut microbes help chemotherapy drugs
Two bacterial species that inhabit the human gut activate immune cells to boost the effectiveness of a commonly prescribed anticancer drug, researchers report Oct.
Soil microbes flourish with reduced tillage
Microbes improve soil quality by cycling nutrients and breaking plant residues down into soil organic matter.
Microbes help plants survive in severe drought
Plants can better tolerate drought and other stressors with the help of natural microbes, University of Washington research has found.
Mix and match microbes to make probiotics last
Scientists have tried to alter the human gut microbiota to improve health by introducing beneficial probiotic bacteria.

Related Microbes Reading:

Best Science Podcasts 2019

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2019. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Setbacks
Failure can feel lonely and final. But can we learn from failure, even reframe it, to feel more like a temporary setback? This hour, TED speakers on changing a crushing defeat into a stepping stone. Guests include entrepreneur Leticia Gasca, psychology professor Alison Ledgerwood, astronomer Phil Plait, former professional athlete Charly Haversat, and UPS training manager Jon Bowers.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#524 The Human Network
What does a network of humans look like and how does it work? How does information spread? How do decisions and opinions spread? What gets distorted as it moves through the network and why? This week we dig into the ins and outs of human networks with Matthew Jackson, Professor of Economics at Stanford University and author of the book "The Human Network: How Your Social Position Determines Your Power, Beliefs, and Behaviours".