Nav: Home

Nutrient-recycling microbes may feel the heat

November 05, 2018

RIVERSIDE, Calif. -- Bacteria and fungi might conjure up images of diseases and spoiled food, but they also do a lot of good. The billions of microbes in a handful of dead leaves, for example, act as nature's recyclers and regenerate nutrients needed for the next generation of plants to grow.

"If it wasn't for bacteria and fungi, we'd be surrounded by masses of dead trees and plant matter, so they actually do a really important job," said Sydney Glassman, an assistant professor in the Department of Microbiology and Plant Pathology at the University of California, Riverside.

While microbial communities are the engines driving the breakdown of dead plants and animals, little is known about whether they are equipped to handle big changes in climate. In a paper published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Glassman and colleagues at UC Irvine examined what happens after microbial communities move into new climate conditions. The study is a first step toward understanding the vulnerability of these ecosystems to climate change.

To mimic a warming planet, the researchers chose five study sites that differ in climate along the San Jacinto Mountains in southern California, three of which are in natural reserves operated by the University of California. Each site has its own set of resident microbes accustomed to the local climate. 

"While we know that climate affects how fast microbes can recycle plant material, we don't know how important the particular types of microbes are to recycling," said Jennifer Martiny, a UC Irvine professor and co-author of the study.

To move the microbial communities around, the researchers contained the microbes in nylon containers with miniscule pores. These "microbial cages" were filled with dead, sterilized grass and live microbes sourced from each study site. The containers allowed water and nutrients --but not microbes -- to move in and out. The amount of grass decayed by the caged microbes was measured at six, 12, and 18 months.

The study confirmed previous results that sites with moderate climates (not too hot or cold and not too wet or dry) saw the most decay and therefore were the most effective places for nutrient recycling. More surprisingly, however, the source of the microbes also affected the amount of decay. Microbes from certain sites performed better than others, even outside their resident environment. For example, when moved into the drier shrubland, grassland-sourced microbes outperformed the shrubland residents by as much as 40 percent.

"We expected to see a 'home-field advantage' situation where every microbial community decomposed best at its own site, but that wasn't the case," Glassman said. "While we know that microbes decay plants more slowly in hotter and drier environments, we are just now learning that specific microbial communities play an independent role in decomposition, and it is yet to be seen how these communities will be affected by climate change and desertification."
-end-
The title of the paper is "Decomposition responses to climate depend on microbial community composition." In addition to Glassman, who completed the work as a postdoctoral researcher at UC Irvine, collaborators at UC Irvine are: Martiny, Claudia Weihe, Junhui Li, Michaeline Albright, Caitlin Looby, Adam Martiny, Kathleen Treseder, and Steven Allison. The study was funded by the National Science Foundation and the US Department of Energy.
 

The University of California, Riverside (http://www.ucr.edu) is a doctoral research university, a living laboratory for groundbreaking exploration of issues critical to Inland Southern California, the state and communities around the world. Reflecting California's diverse culture, UCR's enrollment is now nearly 23,000 students. The campus opened a medical school in 2013 and has reached the heart of the Coachella Valley by way of the UCR Palm Desert Center. The campus has an annual statewide economic impact of more than $1 billion. To learn more, call (951) UCR-NEWS.

University of California - Riverside

Related Climate Change Articles:

Mysterious climate change
New research findings underline the crucial role that sea ice throughout the Southern Ocean played for atmospheric CO2 in times of rapid climate change in the past.
Mapping the path of climate change
Predicting a major transition, such as climate change, is extremely difficult, but the probabilistic framework developed by the authors is the first step in identifying the path between a shift in two environmental states.
Small change for climate change: Time to increase research funding to save the world
A new study shows that there is a huge disproportion in the level of funding for social science research into the greatest challenge in combating global warming -- how to get individuals and societies to overcome ingrained human habits to make the changes necessary to mitigate climate change.
Sub-national 'climate clubs' could offer key to combating climate change
'Climate clubs' offering membership for sub-national states, in addition to just countries, could speed up progress towards a globally harmonized climate change policy, which in turn offers a way to achieve stronger climate policies in all countries.
Review of Chinese atmospheric science research over the past 70 years: Climate and climate change
Over the past 70 years since the foundation of the People's Republic of China, Chinese scientists have made great contributions to various fields in the research of atmospheric sciences, which attracted worldwide attention.
A CERN for climate change
In a Perspective article appearing in this week's Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Tim Palmer (Oxford University), and Bjorn Stevens (Max Planck Society), critically reflect on the present state of Earth system modelling.
Fairy-wrens change breeding habits to cope with climate change
Warmer temperatures linked to climate change are having a big impact on the breeding habits of one of Australia's most recognisable bird species, according to researchers at The Australian National University (ANU).
Believing in climate change doesn't mean you are preparing for climate change, study finds
Notre Dame researchers found that although coastal homeowners may perceive a worsening of climate change-related hazards, these attitudes are largely unrelated to a homeowner's expectations of actual home damage.
Older forests resist change -- climate change, that is
Older forests in eastern North America are less vulnerable to climate change than younger forests, particularly for carbon storage, timber production, and biodiversity, new research finds.
Could climate change cause infertility?
A number of plant and animal species could find it increasingly difficult to reproduce if climate change worsens and global temperatures become more extreme -- a stark warning highlighted by new scientific research.
More Climate Change News and Climate Change Current Events

Trending Science News

Current Coronavirus (COVID-19) News

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2020.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Debbie Millman: Designing Our Lives
From prehistoric cave art to today's social media feeds, to design is to be human. This hour, designer Debbie Millman guides us through a world made and remade–and helps us design our own paths.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#574 State of the Heart
This week we focus on heart disease, heart failure, what blood pressure is and why it's bad when it's high. Host Rachelle Saunders talks with physician, clinical researcher, and writer Haider Warraich about his book "State of the Heart: Exploring the History, Science, and Future of Cardiac Disease" and the ails of our hearts.
Now Playing: Radiolab

Insomnia Line
Coronasomnia is a not-so-surprising side-effect of the global pandemic. More and more of us are having trouble falling asleep. We wanted to find a way to get inside that nighttime world, to see why people are awake and what they are thinking about. So what'd Radiolab decide to do?  Open up the phone lines and talk to you. We created an insomnia hotline and on this week's experimental episode, we stayed up all night, taking hundreds of calls, spilling secrets, and at long last, watching the sunrise peek through.   This episode was produced by Lulu Miller with Rachael Cusick, Tracie Hunte, Tobin Low, Sarah Qari, Molly Webster, Pat Walters, Shima Oliaee, and Jonny Moens. Want more Radiolab in your life? Sign up for our newsletter! We share our latest favorites: articles, tv shows, funny Youtube videos, chocolate chip cookie recipes, and more. Support Radiolab by becoming a member today at Radiolab.org/donate.