Just a few common bacteria eat up most of the carbon in the soil


Some bacterial “miners” that process soil nutrients more efficiently than others. Here, an overhead processor, Bradyrhizobium, standardizes its carbon control from glucose addition, processing nutrients with the efficiency of an industrial borer. Credit: Image courtesy of Victor O. Lechik, Center for Ecosystem and Society Sciences, Northern Arizona University

Circulating soil bacterial carbon is not a joint effort

Scientists can capture valuable demographic data about soil microbes using a tool called a quantitative stable isotope assay (qSIP). This tool reveals who the bacteria are in a community and whether they are using nutrients or in the process of growth. In a new study on qSIP, scientists found that in many soil environments, only a few types of bacteria use more than half of the available carbon. Despite being home to thousands of species, only three to six groups of bacteria were responsible for most of the carbon use that occurred in many of the soil types tested.

Soil contains twice as much carbon as all plants on Earth. To understand future climate dynamics, scientists must predict how microbial activity will store carbon in soil or release it as carbon dioxide. By knowing which bacteria in a community are responsible for important ecosystem functions, such as the carbon cycle, scientists can focus future research on these key bacterial groups. This research also helps to expand the broader field of microbiology.

Researchers at Northern Arizona University and Pacific Northwest National Laboratory analyzed soil samples to trace oxygen in the water called 18O to see which species it included in their waters. (function(d, s, id){ var js, fjs = d.getElementsByTagName(s)[0]; if (d.getElementById(id)) return; js = d.createElement(s); js.id = id; js.src = "//connect.facebook.net/en_US/sdk.js#xfbml=1&version=v2.6"; fjs.parentNode.insertBefore(js, fjs); }(document, 'script', 'facebook-jssdk'));

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