Networks of Power and Influence

This week I am attending the 33rd New Phytologist symposium (Networks of Power and Influence) with Robin Sen and Francis Brearley from MMU. I will present a poster of work supported by MMU and Moors for the Future.

The poster shows a preliminary network analysis of bacterial and fungal microbial communities in the soil at Holme Moss, which is a degraded peat moorland near Manchester. The work is a little unusual because most commonly microbiome analyses focus only on one kingdom at a time – e.g. bacteria, fungi, or archaea separately. Secondly network analysis is fairly novel in microbiome analysis, although it has been demonstrated to have great potential (e.g. Faust and Raes; 2012) and we think it is a really useful tool for looking at microbial interactions.

This project was enabled by my involvement in the nanoinfobio project where I met Jon Borresen, a network fanatic who is really enthusiastic about investigating the properties of biological networks.

Here is the poster abstract:

Peatlands are under threat from land management, anthropogenic pollution and climate change. These factors are implicated in severe degradation of peatlands in the southern Pennines of northern England. Significant areas of unconsolidated bare peat are both highly vulnerable to peat erosion and resistant to natural re-vegetation.

Restoration efforts during the last 30 years have included liming and fertilisation of bare peat allowing transient growth of introduced lowland grass species for peat stabilisation that facilitates establishment of Calluna vulgaris and other dwarf shrubs. Key restoration goals through re-vegetation of bare peat are to increase biodiversity, recover hydrological function, and retain carbon storage function.

Below-ground bacterial and fungal communities were characterised in tandem across this vegetation mosaic using high-throughput sequencing of respective phylogenetic markers (16S and ITS1). Restoration activities were reflected in changes in plant cover and the below-ground microbial community, which may be of functional importance in relation to restoration goals and future land management planning.

Ericoid mycorrhizal fungi and ectomycorrhizal taxa were highly represented whilst members of the Glomeromycota were present but rare. Microbial co-occurrence was observed through cross-kingdom network analysis of fungi and bacteria, identifying possible functional groupings of relevance to maintenance and restoration of peatland function.