, Volume 170, Issue 1, pp 75-86

Soil microbial diversity and the sustainability of agricultural soils

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Abstract

Many world ecosystems are in various states of decline evidenced by erosion, low productivity, and poor water quality caused by forest clearing, intensive agricultural production, and continued use of land resources for purposes that are not sustainable. The biological diversity of these systems is being altered. Little research has been conducted to quantify the beneficial relationships between microbial diversity, soil and plant quality, and ecosystem sustainability. Ecosystem functioning is governed largely by soil microbial dynamics. Differences in microbial properties and activities of soils have been reported but are restricted to general ecological enumeration methods or activity levels, which are limited in their ability to describe a particular ecosystem. Microbial populations and their responses to stresses have been traditionally studied at the process level, in terms of total numbers of microorganisms, biomass, respiration rates, and enzyme activities, with little attention being paid to responses at the community or the organismal levels. These process level measurements, although critical to understanding the ecosystem, may be insensitive to community level changes due to the redundancy of these functions. As microbial communities comprise complex interactions between diverse organisms, they should be studied as such, and not as a “black box” into which inputs are entered and outputs are received at measured rates. Microbial communities and their processes need to be examined in relation to not only the individuals that comprise the community, but the effect of perturbations or environmental stresses on those communities.