What lies beneath - what creepy critters are in our soils?

Massey student Ben Bridgeman is using new research techniques to survey what microbes and invertebrates are in our soil.
Murray Wilson/ Fairfax NZ

Massey student Ben Bridgeman is using new research techniques to survey what microbes and invertebrates are in our soil.

A cutting-edge genetic study will tell us more about what critters live in our soils. 

A range of different types of soil habitats in Manawatu are being sampled, and put through DNA testing. This will tell scientists what types of invertebrates and microbes are present, and the differences in the populations at the sites. 

Massey science masters graduate Ben Bridgeman is carrying out the work, and said  few studies had been done previously on what organisms are present in our soils. 

"Most surveys done on the land look at the stuff on the top of the soil that's easy to see, but with this we want to know what are the major differences in the very simple stuff, the microbes, and invertebrates - the soil ecosystem. 

"It's similar to what we knew about big animals 100 years ago - we're still finding out a lot more." 

The invertebrates and microbes in the soil affect plants growing in it, crop productivity and health, nutrients available, and nutrient and waste runoff. 

"It's an introductory study to look at whether we can detect if there are changes in farmland and urban areas and regenerating bush, and is this just a change, or is this affecting the soil's ability to provide natural functions?

"The amount that the soil ecosystem does is astronomical, and if that [ecosystem activity] goes away the cost is huge.

"We have an issue of waste from urban areas and agriculture, can we decipher a pathway - is this affecting the system, and can we improve it?" 

Samples of invertebrates (including insects and worms), are being taken from the top 10 centimetres of soil, while the ideal depth for sampling the microbe population from was about 22cm, he said. 

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The project will trial "method protocols" for DNA extraction. Samples collected will be sent overseas for analysis, then compared with international DNA databanks to identify which organisms are present.  

The study was designed to lead to further research, Bridgeman said. 

 - Stuff

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