Marina Dacal: Can past climatic conditions influence soil microbes and functioning responses to present extreme climatic events?

In this new post, PhD Marina Dacal from University of Alicante presents her last work ‘Climate change legacies contrastingly affect the resistance and resilience of soil microbial communities and multifunctionality to extreme drought’. She talks about the importance of looking at multiple components when doing ecology, highlights the importance of drylands and shares her new-found passion for knitting.

About the paper

Soil microbes are the most abundant and diverse organisms on Earth. They are linked to soil functioning, as they play a key role in multiple soil functions such as Carbon decomposition or nutrient cycling. Climate change is formed by different components, from variations in mean air temperature and precipitation patterns to extreme events such as heat waves and short but very intense drought events. Warming and changes in rainfall patterns have been shown to significantly affect the structure and functioning of soil microbial communities. But what about the interactive effects of the different components of climate change on soil microbes and their ability to provide multiple functions simultaneously?

Laboratory experiment. Microcosms were incubated in a growth chamber under dark conditions for a total of 75 days. The first 15 days the soils were subjected to an extreme drought event to determine the resistance of soil microbes and multifunctionality to such disturbance. Then, soils were rewetted and the resilience was assessed 1, 15, and 60 after rewetting. At each sampling date, soil respiration was measured using a modification of the MicroRespTM protocol, which is a colorimetric technique that uses 96-well detection plates (bottom right). Credit: Marina Dacal
Laboratory experiment. Microcosms were incubated in a growth chamber under dark conditions for a total of 75 days. The first 15 days the soils were subjected to an extreme drought event to determine the resistance of soil microbes and multifunctionality to such disturbance. Then, soils were rewetted and the resilience was assessed 1, 15, and 60 after rewetting. At each sampling date, soil respiration was measured using a modification of the MicroRespTM protocol, which is a colorimetric technique that uses 96-well detection plates (bottom right). Credit: Marina Dacal

Previous studies have demonstrated that past climatic conditions influence the response of soil microbial communities and certain soil functions to a subsequent drought event. However, most previous studies have only evaluated the legacy effect of altered precipitation patterns, ignoring the effect of other components of climate change components such as global warming.  Additionally, drylands such as our study site are underrepresented in these articles compared to other ecosystem types such as temperate ones. Most importantly, this research has evaluated only individual functions such as soil respiration, but not the ability of soil microbes to develop multiple functions at the same time (multifunctionality, hereafter), information that is crucial for management and conservation.

In this article, my co-authors and I evaluated how legacy effects of being previously exposed to seven years of warming, reduced rainfall and their combination, affects the response and recovery of soil microbial communities and the multifunctionality that they mediate to an extreme drought event. Our findings indicate that climate change legacies affected the resistance and resilience of soil bacterial and fungal abundance to a subsequent extreme drought event, but not those of their community composition, richness, and multifunctionality. Our results provide new insights on how climate change legacies contrastingly influence the resistance and resilience of soil microbial communities and multifunctionality. Furthermore, our findings highlight the role that specific microbial taxa play in maintaining soil multifunctionality and recovering from extreme drought events predicted under anthropogenic climate change.

About the research

Field climate change experiment. The image on the top shows an air view of the complete plot, whereas the bottom ones provided details of the different climate changes treatments used (warming on the left and the combination of reduced rainfall and combination on the right). Credit: Enrique Valencia.
Field climate change experiment. The image on the top shows an air view of the complete plot, whereas the bottom ones provided details of the different climate changes treatments used (warming on the left and the combination of reduced rainfall and combination on the right). Credit: Enrique Valencia.

In the face of ongoing climate change, evaluating how soil microbes and their associated multifunctionality acclimate to it and respond to future disturbances related to it is vital for making appropriate management and conservation decisions. These decisions may also have implications for broader ecosystem services including global food security, which is crucial with an increasing global population.

For our research, we used a combined approach that mixes field and laboratory experiments. Specifically, we used soils collected from a field climate change experiment that has been operating for seven years to conduct an independent laboratory study. The latter consists in two parts. The first one aimed to evaluate how climate change legacies affect the resistance of soil microbial communities and that of multifunctionality to extreme drought. For this purpose, the experimental soils were subjected to an extreme drought event for two weeks. However, for the second part, the soils were rewetted at the end of the extreme drought to evaluate how they recovered from such disturbance. More precisely, we assessed the resilience of soil microbial communities and that of multifunctionality 1, 15 and 60 days after rewetting.

Our research opens up a new set of questions and multiple lines of research regarding the mechanisms through which climate change legacies impact on the response and recovery of soil microbial community attributes and the multifunctionality they mediate to a subsequent extreme drought event. Furthermore, disentangling the mechanisms through which specific microbial taxa are linked to multifunctionality will also be important to take appropriate management and conservation measures that ensure the maintenance and recovery of multifunctionality in a warmer world.

About The Author

Marina Dacal
Marina Dacal

I am a postdoctoral researcher in the Multidisciplinary Institute for the Environmental Studies located in the University of Alicante, Alicante, Spain. I have been interested in ecology since I was at High School, because I really enjoy the subjects related to nature. Additionally, I used to spend a lot of time during excursions observing the animals, the plants, the lichens, etc. of the places that we visited. That is why I decided to do a BSc in Environmental Sciences. However, I was interested not only in visible organisms, but also in microbes. Therefore, I did a MSc on Microbiology selecting the subjects more related to Microbial Ecology.

I recently finished my Ph.D. in Natural Resources Conservation at King Juan Carlos University, Madrid, Spain. During my Ph.D., my research focused on the microbial regulation of climate change impacts on ecosystem, especially in ecosystems functions related to the carbon cycle, at different spatial and time scales. Recently, I started to investigate how different plants in different ecosystems contribute to carbon storage in the soil and so, whether they help to reduce the negative consequences of climate change.

In my spare time, I enjoy hiking and spending time in nature, especially if I am with my family or friends. I also like to read fiction books that help me to scape a while from scientific reading, but lately I haven’t been able to dedicate so much time reading. However, what really helps me switching of from work is crocheting. It is nice to sit down in the sofa, with a tea and crochet some rows of your handmade project before going to sleep.

Enjoyed the blog? Now read the research!

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