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Biologists unlock 'black box' to underground world
Date:1/3/2013

nderstanding the relationship between biodiversity and the different jobs that soil microbes do is a first step towards understanding how to better harness these organisms in order to prevent the collapse of the very systems that provide critical ecosystem services, such as fertile soil and clean water.

"The most obvious applications of this understanding will probably be in agricultural ecosystems," Adams said.

A better understanding of below-ground ecosystems can help humans predict how those systems will respond to things such as climate change or perturbations to the soil from mining, drilling or waste. And, hopefully, that understanding can help prevent agricultural or environmental catastrophes.

"We've been walking around on soil since the beginning of time and never really knew what was going on underneath us," Adams said. "Now we will be able to make predictions of how ecosystems function, what causes them to collapse, and perhaps even predict, where collapses will take place and how we can prevent them."

The lead author on the study was Noah Fierer, an associate professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Colorado, Boulder.

The researchers' data also may have something to say about how new species form. For centuries it was thought that geographic barriers (like mountains, peninsulas, rivers and deserts) were the primary engines of speciation. However, it could be that interactions with other species are just as important.

The authors believe this study will open up significant additional research addressing speciation and the evolution of microbial communities.


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Contact: Todd Hollingshead
801-422-8373
Brigham Young University
Source:Eurekalert  

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