A recent study published in Trends in Microbiology has found that dehydration can lead to a dangerous phenomenon that releases more carbon dioxide from the soil, ultimately contributing to climate change. Dr. Stephen Allison, the lead author of the study and a microbial ecologist, explains that soil microbes like bacteria and fungi are highly adaptable to drought conditions, and they consume carbon in the soil and release it back into the atmosphere as carbon dioxide. Drought can potentially disrupt the balance of the carbon cycle as it slows plant growth more than microbes, causing carbon loss, increasing the risk of soil erosion, and reducing soil quality. Additionally, over time, severe droughts can cause the fertile soil to deteriorate and transform into desert-like conditions, leading to a decrease in crop production.
Alison highlights a paradox that the research team faced while conducting their study. During the experiment, a massive fire and a windstorm damaged the plants and the soil used to simulate drought conditions in Southern California. A possible contributor to these events could be due to climate change, ironically the same phenomenon they sought to study.
To resolve this issue, Allison suggests that farmers and land managers reduce disturbances from human activities like tillage, pollution, and livestock. This approach can help maintain diverse microbiomes in the soil, aiding in plant resistance to drought and synthesizing soil carbon. Promoting the growth of beneficial microbes that thrive under drought conditions can potentially help farmers and land managers develop better strategies to conserve soil carbon and improve crop production despite extreme drought conditions.
In a new study, published in Trends in Microbiology, researchers have identified a dangerous phenomenon caused by dehydration. They cause more than normal amounts of carbon dioxide to be released from the soil, which in turn affects climate change.
The lead author of the study, and microbial ecologist, Dr. Stephen Allison, says in an interview with Sky News Arabia:
• The main findings are that soil microbes, such as bacteria and fungi, are highly adaptable, allowing them to tolerate drought.
• These microbes consume carbon in the soil and release it back into the atmosphere as carbon dioxide; Where it contributes to climate change.
• Normally, when soil carbon is consumed by microbes, new carbon is added as plants grow, but drought can slow plant growth more than microbes, disrupting the carbon cycle balance in the soil.
• Carbon loss increases the risk of soil erosion and reduces soil quality; Low carbon soils contain less water and nutrients.
• Over many years of drought, soils may deteriorate and lose their ability to produce crops. A severe drought may transform the fertile soil in some parts of the earth. to become more desert-like.
In his interview with Sky News Arabia, Alison points out a strange paradox that reflects the challenges that faced the research team, saying: “We are conducting a large scientific experiment in Southern California, in the United States, where we simulate drought conditions in grasslands and shrubs, including the soil under plants. “.
He adds: “Our experiment was severely damaged by a massive fire in 2020, then a wind storm in 2021, and ironically, the experiment we use to study the effects of climate change was damaged by extreme events, which are likely to have been exacerbated by climate change.” .
What is the solution?
To counter this phenomenon and preserve the soil, Allison says:
• Farmers and land managers can reduce disturbances from tillage, pollution and livestock, helping soils maintain diverse microbiomes that help plants resist drought and may help synthesize soil carbon.
• It is noteworthy that the microbiome is the sum of microbes coexisting with humans or any of the other organisms, and in the case of plants, they live in the roots, which helps plants to find water and nutrients.
• If these microbes thrive, they can allow plants and soils to survive drought.
• In parallel, at the level of scientific research, we need to know which microbes benefit plants most in drought conditions, as they can fix carbon in the soil, and we also need to know how to promote their growth.
• This may help farmers and land managers develop better strategies to conserve soil carbon and reap all its benefits, despite severe drought.
Soil health is essential for sustainable agriculture and climate change mitigation. The recent study published in Trends in Microbiology highlights the impact of drought-induced carbon loss on soil health and climate change. As we witness the consequences of drought and extreme weather events, it becomes crucial to preserve the soil’s microbiome and promote its adaptability. Farmers and land managers can reduce soil disturbances and promote diverse microbiomes that enable plants and soil survival during drought. Simultaneously, scientific research should focus on identifying beneficial microbes that fix carbon in the soil and promote their growth. Together, these efforts can foster better strategies for soil carbon conservation and secure a sustainable future for agriculture and the environment.