BIODIVERSA+ MicroEco: Characterizing the biodiversity and ecosystem services provided by soil microbiota facing different degrees of land exploitation over the years

BIODIVERSA+ MicroEco: Characterizing the biodiversity and ecosystem services provided by soil microbiota facing different degrees of land exploration over the years

In general, efforts to preserve forest areas threatened by human exploration are directed  towards organisms found on the soil surface. But what about the biodiversity found below it?

Soil microbiota comprises a community of highly diverse organisms that participate on a series of vital ecosystem services for ecological balance, like the cycling of nitrogen and phosphorus, carbon gathering and regulation of microclimates. In a small soil sample collected at any biome, we can detect genetic material from thousands of species of fungi and bacteria providing these services within biological communities.

We live in a period of constant expansion of anthropic activities and exploitation of natural resources. As a result of this, a significant part of the global biodiversity was lost in a short period of time, through immense forest fires, introduction of invasive species, livestock expansion, agriculture, etc. Nowadays, with the progressing advance of studies surrounding metagenomics and meta barcoding, the urgency of a change of paradigm around preservation actions that fully protect global biodiversity is a well known fact. The small amount of knowledge that we have about soil microbiota diversity and its ecological importance leaves a significant gap for the creation of truly effective and integrative conservation policies. The importance of this effort is even more clear when already threatened ecosystems are considered (like cloud forest, for example).

Scheme illustrating anthropic activity influence over soil microbiota diversity, and consequently its ecosystem functions.

The project MicroEco was created in a effort to try to fill this gap, along with partners hailing from five european countries as a part of the BIODIVERSA+ partnership, which finances biodiversity conservation projects as a part of the 2020 decade agenda. This project focuses on soil microbiota, in an attempt to comprehend how intensive land exploitation can affect their diversity and effectiveness of their ecosystem services. In the year 2023, Brazil will be one of the countries involved in this partnership, represented by our research group MIND.Funga.

At São Joaquim National Park, (PNSJ), the MIND.Funga team will implement parcels in areas with different degrees of land use and forest management: from close to pristine areas with little or insignificant anthropic impact over the years, to areas that were highly impacted by logging, forest fires and livestock. Within these parcels, soil samples will be collected to verify the microorganism diversity in said areas, and parameters like carbon, phosphorus and nitrogen concentration will also be measured for posterior ecosystem service efficiency evaluation. The data collected will be used for comparing the areas studied, in order to verify if the intensity of human exploitation influences soil microbiota diversity and ecosystem service efficiency. Furthermore, within the same parcels, endangered macrofungi species will be identified and collected, for posterior conservation status assessment and culture of specimens in vitro

Two out of three areas chosen for parcel implementation within PNSJ. The one in the left had less human influence over the years. The one in the right was highly altered due to a very damaging pattern of exploitation that consisted in forest fires, cattle breeding and extensive agriculture activities.

Duas das três áreas escolhidas para implantação das parcelas dentro do PNSJ. A da esquerda é uma área considerada pouco impactada, possuindo  um histórico de uso menos intenso. Já a da direita é uma área muito alterada pelo uso ao longo dos anos, com histórico de queimadas, estabelecimento de monoculturas e pisoteio de gado.

During the execution of the project, very significant data will be raised, which can be used for future establishment of conservation policies and actions that target not only the biodiversity located on top of soil surface, but also the diversity located below it in a more integrative and efficient way.