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Assessing the effects of climate change on soil ecosystem functioning using an established alpine Microbial Observatory (MicrObs)
Start date: May 16, 2013, End date: Jul 28, 2015 PROJECT  FINISHED 

Soils are an invaluable asset for human wellbeing. Thus monitoring their quality and sustainable functioning should be a priority in a time of global change with unpredictable consequences. Climate-induced changes in species assemblages of biological communities are well documented. However, relatively little is known about such changes in microbial communities, in spite of their critical importance for ecosystem health. Microorganisms adapt faster to changing local conditions than plants and other macro-organisms, making them ideal as indicators for soil and ecosystem health. Thanks to their steep altitudinal gradients, mountain areas are particularly well suited for studying soil microbial community changes induced by climate change. This also makes them more vulnerable, increasing the risk for loss of biodiversity through mountaintop extinction and perturbations of ecosystem integrity. The advancement of DNA sequencing technologies now enables us to explore microbial diversity in-depth and to monitor microbial community composition and dynamics. In MicrObs, I propose an innovative study utilising “next generation” sequencing to survey and monitor the functional and compositional diversity patterns of soil microbial communities along an altitudinal gradient in response to climate change. A soil transplantation experiment will also be carried out to accelerate climate-induced changes. I seek to combine my existing skills with the expertise of the Soil Microbial Ecology Group at NEIKER, utilising the group’s unique “Microbial Observatory” Project. MicrObs will improve the current understanding of the impact of climate change on soil microbial communities and associated ecological processes, on local and global scales. In addition, it will facilitate for continued monitoring. The conceptual and methodological training objectives proposed will strengthen my scientific and management skills, enabling a future establishment as an independent researcher.
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