U.S. Department of Energy

Pacific Northwest National Laboratory

Bailey, Bond-Lamberty, Jansson in Yale Environment 360

Vanessa Bailey checking on soil samples in 2008, during a nearly two-decade-long analysis of microbial activity in soil.

A study led by Dr. Vanessa Bailey and Dr. Ben Bond-Lamberty of Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) took center stage in "Is Climate Change Putting the World's Microbiomes at Risk?," a March 28 article in the online magazine Yale Environment 360.

In the study, which appeared in PLoS One (see research highlight), researchers had a rare long-term look at soil responses over 17 year to changes in temperature, moisture, and other factors. They transplanted dryland soil-core samples from a moist, cool, higher-elevation site to a lower, drier site (and vice versa) and found that microbial

Dr. Ben Bond-Lamberty
Ben Bond-Lamberty

communities and carbon-transfer characteristics in the soils had adapted very little to the new climate conditions.

In what may become, in part, a rapidly warming and drying world, this is no good news, said Bailey. "Soil is the major buffer for environmental changes, and the microbial community is the basis for that resilience." Climate change, the article added, will affect in unknown ways the "planetary microbiome in the Earth's crust and water," the quadrillions of microorganisms that "run the world."

PNNL researchers are at work unraveling what role microbes in soil play in the ecological machinery of Earth. The tiny, teeming, and cooperative fungi, archaea, and bacteria in soils represent one-third of Earth's biodiversity. They also store up vast quantities of CO2 and other greenhouse gases, and (once they are understood more) may one day improve climate models.

Dr. Janet Jansson
Janet Jansson

Also quoted was Dr. Janet Jansson, chief scientist for the Earth and Biological Sciences Directorate at PNNL and president of the International Society for Microbial Ecology. She is initiative lead for PNNL's Microbiomes in Transition, which investigates how climate change and pollution affect microbiomes.

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