Researchers connect the current mix of soil bacteria to climate conditions from 50 years ago

phys.org | 10/23/2018 | Staff
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Scientists expect climate change influences the geographical distribution of microbes in the soil, but few studies have dug deeply into that relationship. A study published this week in mSystems suggests the connection can drag across decades. After sequencing soil samples from North American and the Tibetan plateau, and comparing those to historical climate records, an international team of researchers found that today's mix of soil bacteria is strongly influenced by the climate of 50 years ago.

"The past climate can better predict bacteria distribution than today's climate," says biostatistician Katherine Pollard, senior author of the study and Director of the Gladstone Institute of Data Science & Biotechnology in San Francisco, California.

Studies - Lag - Plants - Animals - Take

Previous studies have shown a lag in plants and animals, in which organisms take years or decades to adjust to the changing climate, but this study is the first to show such a legacy effect for soil-based prokaryotes.

"We found these surprisingly long lags in how the distribution of microbes responds to shifts in the climate and the environment," says microbial ecologist and study leader Joshua Ladau, who worked on the study while at Gladstone.

Relationship - Climate - Soil - Microbes - Future

Assuming the relationship between climate and soil microbes isn't changing, he says, it can be used to predict the future. "If climate change were to stop today, what would happen to the microbial distribution if it has time to catch up?" Ladau asks. "What have we already signed up for?"

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