Restoring Ecosystems After Fire and Flooding: Forget Not the Beneficial Soil Microbes

Climate-linked disasters are robbing us of the same allies that are supposed to help us in fighting climate change: the beneficial soil microbes and the complex network of microorganisms inhabiting the soil

Soil stores nutrients, carbon and micro-organisms. Credit: Xavi
Fernández de Castro/IPS

By Esther Ngumbi
ILLINOIS, United States, Oct 1 2020 (IPS)

Recent months have brought all sorts of climate-linked
disasters, from�raging
wildfires
 in California and Oregon to flooding in
Alabama. As we think of the incalculable losses that are associated
with these extremities linked to the changing climate, I cannot
help but think of the belowground web of life that is burning,
being flooded and washed away, affected, or lost.

Indeed, these climate-linked disasters present a less obvious
challenge: they are robbing us of the same allies that are supposed
to help us in fighting climate change: the allies are the
beneficial soil microbes and the complex network of microorganisms
inhabiting the soil, referred to as the soil microbiome.

Climate-linked disasters are robbing us of the same allies that
are supposed to help us in fighting climate change: the beneficial
soil microbes and the complex network of microorganisms inhabiting
the soil
Unseen to the naked eye, the soil microbiome comprises of a web of
microscopic life that includes trillions of bacteria, fungi,
archaea, viruses, protozoa and fungi.  Research has shown that they
teem in the soil near the roots of plants.

A growing body of scientific research has generated the evidence
of the many
benefits
 that are derived from the associations among microbes
and crops such as corn, tomato, cotton and bell peppers. These
benefits include improving
soil health
promoting
plant growth
, improving plants ability to absorb nutrients and
enhancing the ability of plants to fight stressors such as flooding
and extreme heat, and fending off attacking insects.

Moreover, recent reviews continue
to demonstrate the many microbe conferred benefits while pointing to
outstanding research questions that remain to be explored, to
further facilitate the use of beneficial soil microbes in
agriculture.

These important microorganisms are suffering in the current slew
of disasters. For instance, what does fire do to microorganisms?
According to research, fire alters the
abundance, composition, and activity of both microbial and fungal
communities.

The survivors of fire are left with a fundamentally different
habitat. Depending on the conditions after fires, life can bounce
back quickly, or that would be the end of it. And without a healthy
and functional soil microbial community, the nutrients are not
recycled, and insect pests can invade plants. Moreover, in the end,
soils lacking these helpers become unhealthy.

Given all the devastation these climate crises are creating,
concern about microorganisms is low on people’s lists. Indeed,
understandably, humans tend to only care about visible things. We
are yet to learn about losses of things unseen to the naked
eye.

Yet, this web of microscopic life is no minor matter: its
healing will provide the foundation for the recovery of ecosystems
including agricultural ecosystems. We must be sure to address it in
the coming months of recovery.

Importantly, there is need for more research to uncover the
impact of fire and flooding on beneficial soil microbe’s
communities and to further uncover the best approaches and
strategies that can be used to help soils to recover from these
climate-linked disasters that are projected to happen more
frequently in the future.

As we seek to rebuild, we must not forget to incorporate efforts
geared at restoring the life below ground. Doing so will help these
important microorganisms that live in the soil to bounce back
faster and to thrive and then deliver their many benefits.

 

Dr. Esther Ngumbi is an Assistant Professor at the
Entomology Department and African American Studies, University of
Illinois at Urbana Champaign. She is a Senior Food security fellow
with the Aspen Institute.

The post
Restoring Ecosystems After Fire and Flooding: Forget Not the
Beneficial Soil Microbes
appeared first on Inter Press Service.

Source: FS – All – Ecology – News
Restoring Ecosystems After Fire and Flooding: Forget Not the
Beneficial Soil Microbes