NAU Scientist: Dry Climates Diminish Microbial Diversity

By Melissa Sevigny
Published: Friday, December 11, 2015 - 4:14pm
Updated: Monday, December 14, 2015 - 12:00pm

(Photo courtesy of U.S. Geological Survey)
Desert near Escalante, Utah.

Deserts like the American Southwest are expected to get drier as the climate warms. That’s bad news for soil microbes, according to a global study co-authored by researchers at Northern Arizona University.

This study is the first to look at soil microbes in drylands all over the world. The researchers collected soil samples from 80 dryland ecosystems, on every continent except Antarctica. It found bacteria and fungi were less numerous and less diverse in drier climates. 

“Not only are plants and animals going to respond to climate change, but it seems that also microbes that live in the soil would too,” said NAU soil ecologist Matthew Bowker, one of the study’s authors. “You would expect it, but here it is, loud and clear.”

Bowker said drylands cover 40 percent of the Earth’s landmass, and climate models predict they’ll expand. If microbial diversity diminishes in these regions, soil will become less fertile, and the effects will ripple up the food chain.

Bowker’s next project will be to study livestock grazing in drylands with the international team. 

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