Celebrating World Soil Day 2019: DNA Metabarcoding Uncovers Tropical Forest Soil Microbiomes

Post provided by KATIE M. MCGEE

Tropical forest in Costa Rica ©Katie M. McGee

How much do you think about the world beneath your feet? Soil is essential for life on earth and provides many ecosystem services, including carbon storage and providing habitats for billions of organisms. But one third of our global soils are already degraded and are at risk of further degradation from human activities, such as unsustainable farming practices, industrial activities, mining and other non-environmentally friendly practices. In 2002, the International Union of Soil Sciences (IUSS) marked the 5th December as World Soil Day, to celebrate the importance of soil as a critical component of the natural system and as a vital contributor to human well-being.

To mark this World Soil Day, I’m going to be highlighting my recent study, which used DNA metabarcoding as a method to investigate soil microbiomes for evaluating the success of forest restoration in Costa Rica.

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What is Dark Diversity?

Post provided by ROB LEWIS & MEELIS PÄRTEL

Our understanding of how biological diversity works has been advanced by a long history of observing species and linking patterns to ecological processes. However, we generally don’t focus as much on those species that aren’t observed, or in other words ‘absent species’. But, can absent species provide valuable information?

Dark diversity – a set of species absent from a particular site but which belong to its species pool – has the potential to be as ecologically meaningful as observed diversity. Part of the species pool concept, understanding dark diversity is relatively straightforward.

The Basic Theory of Dark Diversity

To begin learning about dark diversity, there are two important terms that we need to define: ‘species pool’ and ‘focal community’. A ‘species pool’ is a set of species present in a particular region or landscape that can potentially inhabit a particular observed community because of suitable local ecological conditions.

A ‘focal community’ is the set of species that have been observed in a particular region or landscape (this is the ‘observed community’ and can also be referred to as alpha diversity). For a given focal community to become established, the species within it must have overcome dispersal pressures as well as environmental and biotic filters.

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