Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

The tiniest greenhouse gas emitters

07.04.2014

Climate feedbacks from decomposition by soil microbes are one of the biggest uncertainties facing climate modelers.

A new study from the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) and the University of Vienna shows that these feedbacks may be less dire than previously thought.


This is a visual representation of the model output.

Credit: Christina Kaiser: IIASA/University of Vienna

The dynamics among soil microbes allow them to work more efficiently and flexibly as they break down organic matter – spewing less carbon dioxide into the atmosphere than previously thought, according to a new study published in the journal Ecology Letters.

"Previous climate models had simply looked at soil microbes as a black box," says Christina Kaiser, lead author of the study who conducted the work as a post-doctoral researcher at IIASA. Kaiser, now an assistant professor at the University of Vienna, developed an innovative model that helps bring these microbial processes to light.

Microbes and the climate

"Soil microbes are responsible for one of the largest carbon dioxide emissions on the planet, about six times higher than from fossil fuel burning," says IIASA researcher Oskar Franklin, one of the study co-authors. These microbes release greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide and methane into the atmosphere as they decompose organic matter. At the same time, the Earth's trees and other plants remove about the same amount of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere through photosynthesis.

As long as these two fluxes remain balanced, everything is fine.

But as the temperature warms, soil conditions change and decomposition may change. And previous models of soil decomposition suggest that nutrient imbalances such as nitrogen deficiency would lead to increased carbon emissions. "This is such a big flux that even small changes could have a large effect," says Kaiser. "The potential feedback effects are considerably high and difficult to predict."

Diversity does the trick

How exactly microorganisms in the soil and litter react to changing conditions, however, remains unclear. One reason is that soil microbes live in diverse, complex communities, where they interact with each other and rely on one another for breaking down organic matter.

"One microbe species by itself might not be able to break down a complex substrate like a dead leaf," says Kaiser. "How this system reacts to changes in the environment doesn't depend just on the individual microbes, but rather on the changes to the numbers and interactions of microbe species within the soil community."

To understand these community processes, Kaiser and colleagues developed a computer model that can simulate complex soil dynamics. The model simulates the interactions between 10,000 individual microbes within a 1mm by 1mm square. It shows how nutrients, which influence microbial metabolism, affect these interactions, and change the soil community and thereby the decomposition process.

Previous models had viewed soil decomposition as a single process, and assumed that nutrient imbalances would lead to less efficient decomposition and hence greater greenhouse gas emissions. But the new study shows that, in fact, microbial communities reorganize themselves and continue operating efficiently – emitting far less carbon dioxide than previously predicted.

"Our analyses highlight how the systems thinking for which IIASA is renowned advances insights into key ecosystem services," says study co-author and IIASA ecologist Ulf Dieckmann.

"This model is a huge step forward in our understanding of microbial decomposition, and provides us with a much clearer picture of the soil system," says University of Vienna ecologist Andreas Richter, another study co-author.

###

Reference

Kaiser C, Franklin O, Dieckmann U, and Richter A. 2014. Microbial community dynamics alleviate stoichiometric constraints during litter decay. Ecology Letters. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/ele.12269/abstract

For more information please contact:

Christina Kaiser
University of Vienna
Department of Microbiology and Ecosystem Science
Tel: +43 (0)1 4277 76663
Mob: +43 6503773428
christina.kaiser@univie.ac.at

Oskar Franklin
Research Scholar
Ecosystems Services and Management
+43(0) 2236 807 251
franklin@iiasa.ac.at

About IIASA:

IIASA is an international scientific institute that conducts research into the critical issues of global environmental, economic, technological, and social change that we face in the twenty-first century. Our findings provide valuable options to policy makers to shape the future of our changing world. IIASA is independent and funded by scientific institutions in Africa, the Americas, Asia, Oceania, and Europe. http://www.iiasa.ac.at

Katherine Leitzell | EurekAlert!

Further reports about: Analysis IIASA atmosphere decomposition dioxide emissions greenhouse interactions microbe microbes species

More articles from Ecology, The Environment and Conservation:

nachricht The oceans can’t take any more
03.07.2015 | Alfred-Wegener-Institut, Helmholtz-Zentrum für Polar- und Meeresforschung

nachricht Improved veterinary service for livestock is significant for leopard conservation
02.07.2015 | Georg-August-Universität Göttingen

All articles from Ecology, The Environment and Conservation >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Viaducts with wind turbines, the new renewable energy source

Wind turbines could be installed under some of the biggest bridges on the road network to produce electricity. So it is confirmed by calculations carried out by a European researchers team, that have taken a viaduct in the Canary Islands as a reference. This concept could be applied in heavily built-up territories or natural areas with new constructions limitations.

The Juncal Viaduct, in Gran Canaria, has served as a reference for Spanish and British researchers to verify that the wind blowing between the pillars on this...

Im Focus: X-rays and electrons join forces to map catalytic reactions in real-time

New technique combines electron microscopy and synchrotron X-rays to track chemical reactions under real operating conditions

A new technique pioneered at the U.S. Department of Energy's Brookhaven National Laboratory reveals atomic-scale changes during catalytic reactions in real...

Im Focus: Iron: A biological element?

Think of an object made of iron: An I-beam, a car frame, a nail. Now imagine that half of the iron in that object owes its existence to bacteria living two and a half billion years ago.

Think of an object made of iron: An I-beam, a car frame, a nail. Now imagine that half of the iron in that object owes its existence to bacteria living two and...

Im Focus: Thousands of Droplets for Diagnostics

Researchers develop new method enabling DNA molecules to be counted in just 30 minutes

A team of scientists including PhD student Friedrich Schuler from the Laboratory of MEMS Applications at the Department of Microsystems Engineering (IMTEK) of...

Im Focus: Bionic eye clinical trial results show long-term safety, efficacy vision-restoring implant

Patients using Argus II experienced significant improvement in visual function and quality of life

The three-year clinical trial results of the retinal implant popularly known as the "bionic eye," have proven the long-term efficacy, safety and reliability of...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

World Conference on Regenerative Medicine in Leipzig: Last chance to submit abstracts until 2 July

25.06.2015 | Event News

World Conference on Regenerative Medicine: Abstract Submission has been extended to 24 June

16.06.2015 | Event News

MUSE hosting Europe’s largest science communication conference

11.06.2015 | Event News

 
Latest News

Siemens receives order for offshore wind power plant in Great Britain

03.07.2015 | Press release

'Déjà vu all over again:' Research shows 'mulch fungus' causes turfgrass disease

03.07.2015 | Agricultural and Forestry Science

Discovery points to a new path toward a universal flu vaccine

03.07.2015 | Health and Medicine

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>