Beneath our feet lies one of the most biodiverse habitats imaginable – the soil. These highly active underground microbial communities are vital to ecosystem health; they cycle nutrients, form soil structure, and decompose organic matter, among many other functions. The type of microbes that colonise soil is determined by the local plant community and climatic variables, both of which are rapidly changing due to human activity. In a recent study, Dr Carl Rosier of the University of Delaware has explored how urban development disturbs the environmental cycles that influence the types of microbes found in various soil habitats.
Invasive plants can permanently alter ecosystems to promote conditions that support their own persistence. For example, certain invasive grasses can make areas prone to more frequent and larger wildfires, which negatively impact native species but favour fire-resistant invaders. This self-perpetuating process, termed a grass-fire cycle, can be impossible to reverse. Dr Jeanne Chambers of the United States Department of Agriculture’s Rocky Mountain Research Station and her colleagues – Matt Brooks, Matt Germino, Jeremy Maestas, David Board, Matt Jones, and Brady Allred – recently examined how an ecosystem’s resilience to fire and resistance to invasive grasses influence whether a grass-fire cycle will establish. In their paper, the scientists introduced a geospatial tool and decision matrix that incorporate measures of ecological resilience and resistance to invasive grasses for designing management strategies to combat grass-fire cycles.
The destruction of jungle and forest habitats is a serious issue threatening species across the globe. Dr LaRoy Brandt and Maggie Singleton of Lincoln Memorial University studied one such threatened species, Baird’s tapir, in Costa Rica. By identifying the tapir’s tracks and deploying remote trail cameras, the team caught rare glimpses of this threatened species, indicating a return of the native population and an increase in their numbers. The question is, however, is this increase a sign of improving habitats or a result of less favourable forces at play?
Promoting Global Education and Sustainable Development Through Animations | Dr María Angeles Rodriguez-Domenech
One of the main priorities of the United Nations and other international organisations is to encourage the sustainable economic, social, and environmental development of all countries worldwide. Education plays a crucial role in these efforts, as it allows individuals to become more knowledgeable about matters of public interest, while potentially improving their life skills. Researchers at Purdue University and Michigan State University have created Scientific Animations Without Borders, a platform that produces and disseminates educational animations in numerous languages and dialects. A recent paper authored by Dr María Angeles Rodriguez-Domenech of the University of Castilla-La Mancha in Spain discusses the potential of this innovative platform as a tool for sustainable development.
To study the climate of the ancient past, researchers look for its fingerprints in deep marine and lake sediments. Within these geological records are large and active microbial communities that may hold other clues about past environmental conditions and transitions. Tor Einar Møller [Tore Ee-naar Moe-lerr], a doctoral candidate at the University of Bergen, Norway, examined the link between contemporary microbe composition and the ancient climate. In a recent paper, he demonstrates that current microbe communities found within sediment cores capture elements of past environments.
Permafrost is key to maintaining the stability of steep mountain slopes. Yet as the climate warms, this frozen ground is becoming increasingly prone to thawing. In some cases, these events can trigger cascades of loose rock, with potentially devastating consequences for surrounding communities. Using a combination of computer modelling, and daring field experiments, Dr Florence Magnin at the Laboratory of Environments, Dynamics and Mountain Territories (EDYTEM) aims to better predict when and where these rockfalls are likely to occur, and how the state of mountain permafrost will evolve in the future.