Soil microbes of the Kalahari and the Pennines

Soil is a non-renewable resource which sustains life and delivers countless beneficial ecosystem services that we need and take for granted. The microbial diversity of soil dwarfs above-ground plant diversity, but is intimately linked with it. Whilst macroscopic ecology is a well-developed discipline that supports our efforts to manage and protect the environment, microbial ecology has until very recently lacked the tools required to sufficiently quantify communities. New high-throughput DNA based techniques are now revealing the immense microbial diversity in soils, but at present this knowledge rarely contributes to land management practice or policy.

In this seminar I will present microbial ecology studies carried out at MMU on two very different soils: the sand of the Kalahari and the peat of the Pennines. Both of these soils have extensive bare or un-vegetated areas where microbes represent the major biotic component of the landscape. The impacts of human activities are evidenced in the bacterial and fungal communities of both soils. Grazing pressure in Kalahari rangelands, and managed re-vegetation of industrially impacted bare peat will be discussed. I will demonstrate some of the available techniques and challenges for putting microbes on the map, and discuss the potential for using microbial data to inform land management.