Published on: 04-Oct-2020
Humans are altering our environment at a scale and pace never seen before, and this has put focus on the driving forces of ecosystem change. All ecosystems, like rainforests, peat swamps or shrublands, change over time; productivity, plant and animal communities, rate of decomposition and nutrient cycling vary depending on multiple factors. As ecosystems change, so does their ability so store carbon, hold water, serve as habitat, produce wood and fruit etc. Among the factors that drive these changes in ecosystems are those that humans have no control over, such as soil age, topography and parent material, and those that humans (directly or indirectly) control, like climate change and land use change. For a long time, many natural factors that humans have no control over have been considered more important. However, a recent global study published in Nature Communications, led by Dr Manuel Delgado-Baquerizo from Universidad Pablo de Olavide, Spain, and co-authored by ASE researchers Dr Kenny Png and Professor David Wardle, showed that global climatic and land-use changes have the greatest impact on terrestrial ecosystems today.
The study has implications for global sustainable development: "The key finding that global climatic and land-use changes have stronger influences on terrestrial ecosystems than long-term soil formation processes further underlines the importance of mitigating negative anthropogenic impacts on the environment and the need for sustainable development globally," said Kenny Png, who is a research fellow with ASE.
The study is truly global, looking at soil properties, plants and microbes across 16 gradients of soil/ecosystem age, spanning different biomes from the tropics to the arctic. Kenny first got involved with the study during his time as a PhD student at the University of Western Australia. His PhD study system, a successional gradient across large sand dunes of varying age, is one of the systems used in the study. His involvement continued and also came to involve samples from other sites in the study as he moved to University of Manchester, UK, for a postdoctoral fellowship with Prof Richard Bardgett. Kenny's main contribution to the study was quantifying the microbial inhabitants of these soils of different ages - namely soil fungi and bacteria. To assess these microorganisms that are mostly invisible to us, but of great importance for soil functioning, he used the Phospholipid Fatty Acid (PLFA) analysis.
Kenny's current work with the ASE ecology group involves studying links between soil properties and plant communities. One of his projects is looking at ecological effects of invasive plants in New Zealand, closer to home he is studying the effects of wild boar on Singapore's forest ecosystems.
Read the original paper here: The influence of soil age on ecosystem structure and function across biomes
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