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article imageUsing microbes to measure ecological health

By Tim Sandle     Mar 16, 2017 in Environment
There are different measures of the state of an environment, such as toxins in soil or gasses in air. One measure, that can be qualified, is the microbial population since living entities directly signal the ‘health’ of a given locale.
The microbial measure can prove particularly useful evaluating the success of ecological restoration projects in different parts of the world, according to a new study. This is based on measuring the numbers and types of different soil bacteria.
Taking one specific study researchers from the University of Adelaide determined how a community of bacteria present in the soil of land that had been cleared and grazed for 100 years altered to a different state following an exercise of revegetation with the land through the planting of native plants. The shift in the types of soil bacteria provided a measure of the state of the land and its return to a more agriculturally useful state. The trial took place at the Mount Bold Reservoir in the Adelaide Hills, South Australia. To assess the health of the revegetated land soil samples were compared with adjacent land, which acted as a reference site and where no restoration project had taken place.
The shift in bacterial population was demonstrated through molecular biology methods. Here
DNA in soil from samples was taken across the site. Using a method called high-throughput amplicon sequencing of environmental DNA, the Australian scientists quantified the different species of bacteria in a sample were recorded. This method is defined as “genetic material obtained directly from environmental samples (soil, sediment, water, etc.) without any obvious signs of biological source material.” With this there are potential advantages for biodiversity monitoring.
Discussing this in a research brief, lead researcher Professor Andy Lowe explains: “Ecological restoration is an important management intervention used to combat biodiversity declines and land degradation around the world, and has very ambitious targets set under the Bonn Challenge and extended at the 2015 Paris climate talks.”
Professor Lowe thinks that the new measure identified will allow for a new method of identification of soil bacteria to be achieved. The method can also be used to assess the ecological health of an area over time, acting as an alert should adverse changes occur.
The research is published in the journal Microbial Ecology in a science paper titled “Revegetation rewilds the soil bacterial microbiome of an old field.”
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