Monthly Archives: July 2013

Sustainable Farming in Latin America

Sustainable Farming in Latin America

Coffee farms that use sustainable farming techniques are becoming habitats for various species of wildlife. Using tags on the endangered species like the Columbian night Monkey, has shown that they come out of the trees at night and feed on the edges of coffee farms.

All in all the researchers found 12 species living in the coffee fields.

Sustainable Farming in Latin America Preserves Wildlife Habitat

Latin American farms that grow coffee and bananas in an environmentally sustainable manner are serving as biological corridors and even habitat for various species of wildlife, according to a new report by the Rainforest Alliance.

The study, presented in Costa Rica, found that a range of wild species are living on Rainforest Alliance Certified coffee farms, including the vulnerable Colombian night monkey.

The organization’s communications manager for Latin America, Milagro Espinoza, told Efe that practically all of the region’s RA-certified coffee farms are inhabited by wildlife.

The RA also has documented cases of wild species living on banana farms in Costa Rica.

“The standards of the Sustainable Agriculture Network, the tool used in the Rainforest Alliance certification process, include the protection of wild areas as part of their guidelines,” she said.

“That measure has led the coffee farms to become a refuge option or corridor for birds that have been seeing their nesting or migration areas disappear,” Espinoza said.

Colombia is a special case because of the presence in that country of the Colombian night monkey.

“It’s rare to spot night monkeys because they are nocturnal and live in trees,” Deanna Newsom, a senior evaluation and research analyst for the Rainforest Alliance, said.

“By placing tags with a radio signal on a group of Colombian night monkeys, we discovered that they spend almost as much time feeding at the coffee farms under dense shade as in the rainforest,” she added.

Researchers found 12 different species living on coffee farms in Colombia, including the kinkajou, or honey bear; bushy-tailed olingo; and the South American coati.

To obtain the Rainforest Alliance Certified seal, farmers must comply with a set a standards that protect the environment and promote the rights and wellbeing of workers, their families and their communities.


Enhanced by Zemanta

Microbial Decomposition of Arctic Soils

Microbial Decomposition of Arctic Soils


This article discusses ongoing arctic research, specifically research into the interaction of plants and soil microbes in the quickly changing arctic region.

It is well known that there is a large amount of carbon sequestered in frozen Arctic soils. As the Arctic starts to warm what will happen to this carbon? Will microbial decomposition speed the process?

The professor was awarded a grant to study these questions. He’ll have a number of students participate in the study.

CSU Professor Awarded Career Grant

Posted: Jul 26, 2013 2:11 PM EDTUpdated: Jul 26, 2013 2:11 PM EDT

Colorado State University professor and research scientist Matthew Wallenstein has been selected to receive a 2013 National Science Foundation Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Award for $916,609 over five years. The award will support research and education on the vulnerability of Arctic soils to microbial decomposition in response to climate change. Wallenstein is an assistant professor in the Department of Ecosystem Science and Sustainability and a research scientist with the Natural Resource Ecology Laboratory, both part of CSU’s Warner College of Natural Resources.

“This prestigious grant is a great tribute to Dr. Wallenstein’s pioneering work in environmental research and education,” said Warner College of Natural Resources Dean Joyce Berry. “Our College is proud to have innovative professors like Matt who are making a global impact on today’s most critical environmental challenges.”

Wallenstein has been studying microbiology in the Arctic since 2004. His CAREER proposal focuses on understanding how increasing temperature alters the complex interactions between plant communities and soil microorganisms. The project aims to shed light on the fate of the large stocks of carbon that are currently sequestered in Arctic soils.

“The Arctic is a large and important ecosystem that is seeing some of the most rapid climate change on our planet, yet we know little about how these systems will respond,” said Wallenstein. “My hope is to improve our understanding of how the interactions of plants and soil microbes determine changes in processes that ultimately lead to the delivery of carbon and nutrients to the ocean and the atmosphere.”

Arctic carbon deposits have become a focal point for climate change research, as the frozen stores could be released by warming temperatures, further accelerating climate change. Additionally, the abundance of shrubs has been steadily increasing across the Arctic region, changing the chemistry of the Arctic soil.

Wallenstein’s work will help address how changes in temperature and plant litter chemistry affect microbial production of dissolved organic matter, and the decomposition of old soil organic matter. The research findings will enable scientists to better forecast and preemptively manage potential environmental challenges looming in the Arctic.

Wallenstein’s five-year project will involve both field-based and laboratory experiments, and will also integrate research into education and outreach programs for undergraduates and graduate students. His CAREER work is scheduled to include three field research trips per year to the Arctic, providing the opportunity for up to 26 CSU students to gain hands-on scientific field experience.

“The Arctic is such an important region to the health of our planet, so I am excited to give students the opportunity to experience it firsthand and to share their knowledge and global perspective of environmental issues with their classmates,” said Wallenstein.

Students will assist in collecting samples, designing their own independent studies, and analyzing soil data back in the laboratory. In order to qualify for the Arctic field work, students will be required to complete the new Skills for Undergraduate Participation in Ecological Research (SUPER) program, which will help to develop basic research skills prior to student participation in hands-on research and to recruit students from underrepresented groups.

To further expand Arctic learning opportunities at CSU, Wallenstein will also teach a module in a senior capstone course on Arctic soil ecology that will compare Rocky Mountain alpine environments with Arctic ecosystems and allow Arctic research participants to teach other students about the different biomes.
According to the NSF, the Early CAREER Awards are “the National Science Foundation’s most prestigious awards in support of junior faculty who exemplify the role of teacher-scholars through outstanding research, excellent education and the integration of education and research within the context of the mission of their organizations.”

Wallenstein earned his Ph.D. in Ecology from Duke University, and joined CSU’s Natural Resource Ecology Laboratory in 2007. He then became a faculty member for the newly formed Department of Ecosystem Science and Sustainability led by Department Head John Moore, who has also partnered with Wallenstein on Arctic research. Wallenstein credits his department and collaborative research partners with his NSF CAREER award.

“The Department of Ecosystem Science and Sustainability was really designed from the ground up to integrate innovative, global research with environmental education curriculum, giving students the opportunity to learn side-by-side with leaders in the field,” said Moore. “Dr. Wallenstein’s research and educational initiatives embody the philosophy of the NREL, ESS and the Warner College as a whole.”

In addition to the CAREER grant, Wallenstein was also recently selected as one of 13 winners from more than 750 entries in the 2013 BREAD Ideas Challenge. The challenge, part of the Basic Research to Enable Agricultural Development (BREAD) program and co-funded by NSF and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, asked participants from around the world to describe, in 100 words or fewer, the most pressing, novel issues facing smallholder farms – farms typically the size of a football field or smaller – in developing countries.

Wallenstein’s winning challenge was to “develop knowledge, methods, and tools to identify drought-productive microbiomes and facilitate their use by smallholder farmers.” According to Wallenstein, soil microbes help to release soil nutrients for crops and play a critical, yet overlooked, role in crop production and agricultural sustainability. As a winner, he received a $10,000 prize, and NSF is now soliciting competitive research proposals to address the challenges that he and other winners identified.

Crop rotation and the role of microorganisms

Crop rotation has been used effectively  for centuries; however, this is the first article that I have seen that discusses the changes in the microorganisms in the soil as a result of the rotation.

It’s probably not surprising that the organisms changed. What surprised me was that with the wheat the soil microorganisms were mostly bacteria. When crops the crops were changes to oats or peas, there was a shift to soil fungi.

I’d expect to see more studies about the role of microorganisms in the soil in the future. As we move towards using less fertilizer and towards sustainable agricultural practices the role of microorganisms may well be the key feature.



Crop rotation and the role of microorganisms

Crop rotation has been used since ancient times to improve plant nutrition and to limit the spread of disease. A new study reveals this relates to enriching the soil with bacteria, fungi and protozoa.

Crop rotation is the practice of growing a series of different types of crops in the same area in sequential seasons. The practice of crop rotation gives various benefits to the soil, such as the replenishment of nitrogen.

In essence, the new research has demonstrated that changing the crop species massively changes the content of microbes in the soil, which in turn helps the plant to acquire nutrients, regulate growth and protect itself against pests and diseases, boosting yield. The location where this happens is called the rhizosphere. The rhizosphere is the narrow region of soil that is directly influenced by root secretions and associated soil microorganisms.

To show this an organic agricultural study was conducted. Soil was collected from a field near Norwich (in the U.K.) and planted with wheat, oats and peas. After growing wheat, the analysis of the soil showed that it remained largely unchanged and the microbes in it were mostly bacteria. However, growing oat and pea in the same soil caused a huge shift towards fungi.

To show this, extensive genetic testing was required because each gram of soil contains over 50,000 species of bacteria. The findings of the study could be used to develop plant varieties that encourage beneficial microbes in the soil.

The study was published in Nature’s The ISME Journal. The paper is titled “Comparative metatranscriptomics reveals kingdom level changes in the rhizosphere microbiome of plants.”

Read more:


Enhanced by Zemanta

Research into the evolution of Microbial Communities

Glacier Argentina

Research into the evolution of Microbial Communities

Excellent article about the formation of microbial communities. Particularly valuable for soil research, this study uses glacier retreat as its setting.

Its interesting to note that while the types of microorganisms found remained fairly constant, the biomass of the microbial community increased greatly over time. This is likely due to the fact that when microorganisms populate a niche, the most effective at utilizing that niche will multiply at a greater rate. Eventually out competing the other microorganisms.

University of Alberta scientists get dirty at the Robson Glacier

Glacier retreat areas provide an excellent window into the evolution of microbial communities, an ideal opportunity for scientists to study how quickly soil biological functions become established and how ecosystems begin to form. Soils are not static in the landscape, but instead evolve with time under the influence of multiple environmental factors – understanding how these factors interact can lead to advancements in the science and management of soils.

Aria Hahn and Dr. Sylvie Quideau, researchers at the University of Alberta, conducted their research in Mount Robson Provincial Park along the Robson Glacier in British Columbia. Standing 3954 m tall, Mount Robson is the highest point in the Canadian Rocky Mountains and supports a large ice- and snowfield. Their study was published today in the Canadian Journal of Soil Science.

“We are excited to present some of the first data documenting microbial community diversity, biomass and function along a 100-year-old soil chronosequence in a Canadian glacier retreat area,” says Dr. Quideau. “These beautiful natural wonders provide an excellent opportunity to study the development of soils and the microbial communities that live within them.”

Hahn and Quideau measured soil microbial community composition and functional diversity, and determined the influence of Engelmann spruce (Picea engelmannii Parry) and yellow mountain avens (Dryas drummondii Rich.) on soil microbial community succession along the glacier chronosequence. They found that while soil microbial composition remained relatively stable, total biomass and fungal activity of the community responded to changes in the soil environment and increased as the soil aged.

Correlations between microbial respiration of carbon substrates with the soil nitrogen content indicated that the soil microbial community was influencing changes in the soil environment. Yellow mountain avens, a plant known to support nitrogen fixation, increased soil microbial biomass, although this effect took 40 years after deglaciation to emerge.

“Soils and their inhabiting microbes differ greatly among glacier sites around the Earth. We believe that by understanding the natural phenomena in glaciers here at home, we can not only advance the management of Canadian ecosystems but also contribute valuable knowledge to the global community.”


Enhanced by Zemanta