Worms may be our best climate change fighters
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Author:  northwesterner [ Wed May 20, 2015 8:26 pm ]
Post subject:  Worms may be our best climate change fighters

From the Daily KOS

A new study led by the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies has been released. In it researchers studied the effects of interspecific interactions in climate feedback:

We explore the potential of soil animals to mediate microbial responses to warming and nitrogen enrichment within a long-term, field-based global change study. The combination of global change factors alleviated the bottom-up limitations on fungal growth, stimulating enzyme production and decomposition rates in the absence of soil animals. However, increased fungal biomass also stimulated consumption rates by soil invertebrates, restoring microbial process rates to levels observed under ambient conditions. Our results support the contemporary theory that top-down control in soil food webs is apparent only in the absence of bottom-up limitation.

Microbes in the earth's soil ingest organic materials and release carbon waste into our atmosphere.
Global warming, however, accelerates this decomposition and leads to greater emissions, said Thomas Crowther, a postdoctoral fellow at Yale F&ES and lead author of the study. Elevated temperatures stimulate growth and enzyme production, which aids the decomposition process. That in turn leads to a feedback cycle in which human-caused warming exacerbates microbial-caused warming, Crowther said.
“Effectively the microbes that live in the soil are responsible for producing 10 times more carbon emissions than even humans have produced,” Crowther said. "That's the biggest flux of carbon into the atmosphere that there is on Earth."

What their study is able to show is that as temperatures rise, isopods graze more (with the right conditions):
The present study shows how trophic interactions in soil can mediate microbial responses to combined global change factors. As soil nitrogen deposition increases, the limitations on fungal growth are alleviated, stimulating total enzyme activity and decomposition rates. However, this process also affects the grazing activity of soil invertebrates. In the absence of nutrient limitation, top-down control by grazing isopods emerges as a dominant control, limiting any increases in fungal activity and carbon cycling.

One of the important takeaways is really a reinforcement of what most environmentalists would consider common sense: improving soil conditions will help our planet. What this study suggests, however, is improving soil conditions—specifically the living conditions of lifeforms that give many of us the heebie-jeebies and cases of the willies—may be more important than most of us realize.

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