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Climate Change Hurts Our Soil in Tiny Ways Too

Dec 03, 2014 04:15 PM EST

You have likely already heard how climate change is impacting various ecosystems across the world. Oceans in particular seems to be suffering, with essential coral communities literally falling to pieces. However, a new study has found that our land is suffering too, harshly affecting the invisible communities that keep our soil healthy and hearty for plant growth.

Nature World News recently reported how some ecological experts believe that our soil's underground organisms are just as important, if not more important, than the world's oceans. That's because the sheer diversity of barely-understood life living just below our feet has far-reaching impacts on both ecosystems and agricultural land management.

Now, a new study recently published in the journal PLOS One, has shown that consequences of climate change such as uncharacteristic droughts or rainfall and flooding have detrimental influence over soil microorganisms, changing the natural growing conditions for a region.

Michael Schloter, head of the Research Unit Environmental Genomics (EGEN) at Helmholtz Zentrum München, recently teamed up with colleagues from TU München and the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) in Germany to observe the impact of climate change on soil microorganisms under natural conditions.

According to the study, the researchers transferred intact young beech seedlings from a cool, wet site that represents current climatic conditions to a warmer site that reflects how conditions will be in the near future if climate change persists.

"We tried to keep initial soil type and nutrient contents in soil as comparable as possible to avoid additional factors influencing our data," Schloter explained in a statement. "In addition to these natural changes due to the transplantation of the trees, we  exacerbated the scenario by simulating long periods of drought followed by heavy rainfall."

The researchers found that even a small change in climatic conditions resulted in a stunning nutrient turnover resulting from a change in the type of surviving soil micro-flora. In the case of extreme weather conditions, this change was even more pronounced, and heavily influenced plant growth beyond the simple mechanics of drought conditions (lack of water, overexposure to sunlight, etc).

The researchers argue that this serves as a proof-of-concept that it is important to consider the effects climate change will have on smaller factors, not just plants themselves, in future climate assessments.

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