Laura García-Velázquez: Evaluating the drivers of soil P pools in coastal ecosystems

Laura García-Velázquez, a graduate student talks about her recent paper Climate and soil micro‐organisms drive soil phosphorus fractions in coastal dune systems– the first article published from her PhD!

About the paper

The importance of understanding soil P cycle is likely to increase in the coming decades due to the increasing atmospheric deposition of N caused by agricultural and industrial activities. Due to this, it is necessary to understand the main drivers of soil P in coastal dune systems, which are essential to mitigate the impacts of extreme weather events related to climate change. This will allow to establish conservation strategies in ecosystems affected by these imbalances.

Our paper is about the influence of biotic and abiotic drivers over the short-, medium- and long-term available phosphorus (P) along an aridity gradient in the Atlantic coastline of the Iberian Peninsula. The main key messages of the study are (1) that increases in aridity diminish the medium and long-term available P; (2) microorganisms transfer P from medium-term pool to short-term one, and (3) increases in bacterial richness associated to biofilms might be involved in the thickening of the medium-term available P. The results obtained support the imbalance between N and P predicted by other studies in different ecosystems and in the ongoing climate change context. It also highlights the importance of microbial diversity in the medium and long-term availability of P.

This study opens new research questions related to the identification of phosphorus solubilizing microorganisms responsible of P transfers between different pools in dunes ecosystems. For example, what species of bacteria are involved in the transfer of mid-term available phosphorus to more labile one? Furthermore, how much of the available phosphorus is also immobilized by the microorganisms? Questions that I am looking forward to address in the future.

About the research

The dune ecosystems research was an experience that undoubtedly marked an important moment in this stage of my life and I really feel very proud of it. A few months after I started my thesis, I was asked to participate in this study and, of course, I said “yes” with enthusiasm. This study would eventually become part of my thesis project, so I decided to get fully involved in it. We lived in a motorhome for the 15 days that lasted the sampling period and we covered about 1500 km of coastline in Spain and Portugal. Every day we woke up to different views, and began the adventure of finding the next sampling point. We returned quite tired at sunset and still had to process the samples but dining under the stars made it worthwhile. During the trip, many people approached us to ask what our work consisted of. It was very nice to see their enthusiasm for learning more about our research and we were delighted to share it. I was quite surprised by the great preservation of the dune systems on the Portuguese coast but if I had to choose my favourite place it would be “Los Genoveses” in Cabo de Gata Natural Park, Almería (Spain). That experience was not only special due to the discovery of unforgettable places but also for the emotional connection between all the people that formed the work team.

About The Author

I am currently working to understand the effects that climate change and aridity will have on the phosphorous fractions in the soil in arid and semi-arid ecosystems. This question is assess at different spatial scales (local, regional and global) using simulation experiments of climate change and through aridity gradients in these ecosystems.

Since I was little, I always asked myself questions about all the processes that occur in nature and I looked for the answers in the resources that were within my reach. While I was studying an environmental science degree, I realized that the study of ecosystems allowed me to understand to a large extent and interpret the relationships between living beings and the environment as a whole. Being able to do the doctoral thesis was one of my main motivations, and answering all the questions I have in mind through experiments really seems a lot of fun. My supervisor gave me the opportunity to realize this dream and I will always appreciate it. I firmly believe that if you believe in what you feel you want to do, you can always achieve it. I have learned a lot in these 5 years and I have met people who will continue to be great friends once this stage is over. I am sure that the ecology laboratory at Pablo de Olavide University will always be my second home.

Read Climate and soil micro‐organisms drive soil phosphorus fractions in coastal dune systems here!

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