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CU-Boulder-led team gets first look at diverse life below rare tallgrass prairies
Date:10/31/2013

hard to find sites that we knew had never been tilled," Fierer said. "As soon as you till a soil, it's totally different. Most gardeners are familiar with that."

The researchers used DNA sequencing to characterize the microbial community living in each soil sample. The results showed that a poorly understood phylum of bacteria, Verrucomicrobia, dominated the microbial communities in the soil.

"We have these soils that are dominated by this one group that we really don't know anything about," Fierer said. "Why is it so abundant in these soils? We don't know."

While Verrucomicrobia were dominant across the soil samples, the microbial makeup of each particular soil sample was unique. To get an idea of how soil microbial diversity might have varied across the tallgrass prairie when it was still an intact ecosystem, the researchers built a model based on climate information and the data from the samples.

"I am thrilled that we were able to accurately reconstruct the microbial component of prairie soils using statistical modeling and data from the few remaining snippets of this vanishing ecosystem," said Katherine Pollard, an investigator at the Gladstone Institutes in San Francisco and a co-author of the paper.

Fierer and his colleagues are already hard at work trying to grow Verrucomicrobia in the lab to better understand what it does and the conditions it favors. But even without a full understanding of the microbes, the research could bolster tallgrass prairie restoration efforts in the future.

"Here's a group that's really critical in the functioning of these soils. So if you're trying to have effective prairie restoration, it may be useful to try and restore the below-ground diversity as well," Fierer said.


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Contact: Noah Fierer
Noah.Fierer@colorado.edu
303-492-5615
University of Colorado at Boulder
Source:Eurekalert  

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