For many of us soils are a black box. We put things into the box and we get things out of the box, but we don’t have a very good idea of what happens inside the box. We put seed, fertilizer, and water into the soil and out from the soil comes the crops we are growing. But what exactly happens inside that black box we call soil? Farmers and scientists have been studying that question for hundreds of years and continue to study it today. They have learned that many complex physical, biological, and chemical processes are carried out in soil. Lets open up that black box just a little and learn something about the biological processes that occur in soil. Because most of the life forms in soil are extremely small, “microbiology” is an appropriate term to describe the study of those life forms. Those who study soil biology quickly learn that soil life consists of intricate and complex interactions and cycles among the various living organisms in the soil. The activities and interactions of soil organisms largely determine the capacity of a soil to function in an agricultural, or any other, system. Knowing something about soil biological systems will help us to better understand how soil management impacts soil biology and the capacity of soil to function in agricultural production systems.
Before going any further, lets review the five basic functions that soils used for crop production need to be able to carry out. Soil must firmly anchor plant roots. It must be strong enough to hold crops and even large trees erect. Yet soil must be permeable enough to allow tiny root hairs to penetrate it. Soil must retain rain that falls on it in order to continuously supply water to growing plants. Yet it must also allow excess water to drain. The soil must drain because it must also supply air, more specifically oxygen, to crop roots. Too much water means too little air and the crops suffocate. Soil must supply nutrients for plant growth. To do so it must be able to store nutrients and then release them to the roots of growing crops. But soil must not release those nutrients to draining water. Soil is a truly remarkable material to be able to perform each of these tasks – tasks that sometimes seem to be in conflict with each other. In this session we will consider how the organisms that live in soil, and the complex interactions among those organisms, give soils the capacity to perform these functions.
Think of an ecosystem that is teeming with life. An ecosystem where there is a great variety of plants and animals. An ecosystem where there is a complicated interplay between all these living creatures from the smallest to the largest. A place where fierce predators stalk the numerous animals that feed on the a rich variety of abundant plants, and scavengers clean up the mess that is left behind. What comes to mind? A coral reef? A savannah? A rainforest? Each of these are examples of complex ecosystems, but none approaches the complexity, the variety, or the abundance of life forms in a healthy soil.
If you could shrink down small enough to enter into an earthworm burrow, smaller still to squeeze through the spaces between granules of soil, small enough to sit on a piece of silt… What forms of life would you see? What would they be doing? Who would be eating whom? In this session we are going to do just that. Lets take a closer look at who is at home in the soil.
Specifically we want to look at The different kinds of organisms that live in our soils The kinds of functions they perform and how they make a living How abundant they are Some examples of how they interact with each other, and finally How our soil management practices affect soil life This slide gives you just a small glimpse of the enormous diversity of organisms in the soil.
To begin to understand the great diversity of soil organisms, it is helpful to place them into various groupings. We can categorize them on the basis of Size – grouping on the basis of how big an individual organism is, Species – grouping on the basis of genetic similarity, and Function – grouping on the basis of what the organisms do. Soil organisms could also be grouped on the basis of those that can cause diseases and the types of diseases they cause. Because plant pathology is not the focus of this program we will not be categorizing soil organisms on this basis.
Soil organisms come in a great variety of sizes. Macro or large organisms are those with a diameter greater than about 2 mm (1/10 in). They are easily visible to the human eye. Examples would include earthworms, plant roots (yes, plant roots are soil organisms), mice, voles, snakes, beetles, and millipedes to name a few. Meso are the mid-sized organisms that range from about 2 mm down to 0.2 mm in diameter. These include mites, springtails, and smaller worms. Some of these critters are visible to the naked eye, but many of them are difficult to see without some magnification. Finally, the micros are the small ones. These are less than 0.2 mm in diameter. In general, these can only be seen using microscopes, though large masses of fungal filaments can sometimes be seen. In fact, some scientists claim a single soil fungus that is spread over many acres in Michigan’s upper peninsula is actually the largest living organism in the world. Most of these organisms are truly miniscule such as the yeasts, actinomycetes, algae, and bacteria. Bacteria, for example, range from 0.5 to 5 um (1/50,000 to 1/5,000 in) in diameter. To put that into perspective, about 4,000 of the smaller bacteria could line up head to tail across the head of a pin. Of course bacteria have neither heads nor tails. The focus in this program is going to be on the small end of the scale, the organisms we don’t see and often forget about, the microbiology of the soil.
A healthy soil contains a very large number of different kinds of species. Each of these species has a different function in the soil. These include animals, many of which are very familiar to us because we see them all the time. Among these are: All the familiar soil-dwelling mammals and snakes. These animals are also near the top of the food chain. They feed on plants and smaller animals. The arthropods which include spiders, insects, and insect larvae. The annelids which are all the various types of worms. The mollusks which include animals such as snails and slugs. The arthropods, worms, and mollusks are mostly herbivores and detritovores, meaning they feed on plants and parts of dead animals and plants. They perform an important function in the decay process in that they mix these materials into the soil. They also break apart large pieces of material to make them more accessible to other degraders. And finally, the nematodes. These are very small roundworms, 4 to 100 um (1/500 in) in diameter and up to a few millimeters in length (1/20 – 1/10 in). We usually hear about nematodes because they can be significant crop pests. Some will pierce the cells of crop roots to feed. This allows other plant pathogens to invade and cause infections that may severely damage or kill the plant. Most nematodes, however, are beneficial. They feed on insect larvae, fungi, and bacteria, all of which could be plant pathogens. Since bacteria contain more nitrogen than the nematodes can use, their feeding serves to release plant available nitrogen into the soil. Nematode feeding may account for as much as 30-40% of the organic N released in some soils. Another interesting, almost microscopic soil dwelling animal is the water bear. This water bear should not be confused with…
Not to be confused with this somewhat larger critter.
Soil organisms also include the roots of all the plants we are familiar with as well as plants we are less familiar with, the algae. Plants are very important soil organisms because they are the primary producers, or autotrophs. That means they utilize water, energy from sunlight, and carbon dioxide from the atmosphere to build living tissues. All the other life in the soil, indeed all the other life on earth depends on these organisms. Plants pump a lot of organic material into the soil. Of the crops we commonly grow such as corn, wheat, beans, forages, the weight of roots left in the soil averages about 25% of the above ground yield. Like the vascular plants, algae are also photosynthetic, they use sunlight as their source of energy. Most algae range in size from 2 – 20 um (1/10,000 –1/1,000 in). The algae also add a lot of organic material to the soil. Some algae excrete sugars into the soil that help to stabilize soil structure.
In addition to adding organic matter to soil, plant roots also have a great influence on the soil biology in the volume of soil immediately adjacent to them. This volume of soil is known as the rhizosphere and usually extends about 2 mm (1/10 in) out from the surface of living roots. Plant roots exude organic materials into this zone as well as dead cells sloughed from the growing roots. These sources of organic carbon greatly increase soil microbial life in the rhizosphere compared to the bulk soil. The net effect is beneficial for plant growth since the microbial activity tends to increase nutrient and water supply to the root. Rhizosphere activity also appears to increase root soil contact and to lubricate root extension through the soil.
Now lets turn our attention to the smaller and perhaps less familiar soil organisms. The fungi are another large group of organisms that include yeasts, mildew, molds, and rusts. Although some fungi cause significant crop diseases, many soil fungi play very important functions in overall soil and crop health. The AM fungus shown here is an arbuscular mycorrhizae, a fungus that benefits higher plants. We will talk more about this kind of fungus in a few minutes. Mushrooms are the fruiting structure of some fungi. The beautiful red balls are the fruiting structure of a slime mold. Also shown here is a red yeast. The fungi are an extremely important group of degraders. They are able to degrade parts of plants and animals that bacteria have a hard time with. Materials like cellulose, starch, and lignin. The fungi are very important in the process of humus formation and in nutrient cycling. The thread-like strands of fungi, called hyphae, also help to stabilize soil structure. Some fungi are predators on other organisms such as nematodes. Many fungi release chemicals into the soil that may be toxic to plants, animals, and bacteria. The first modern antibiotic drug, penicillin, was obtained from the soil fungus, Penicillium . The protists are a large group of single celled organisms. These organisms are highly mobile and “swim” about in the soil pore water. The protists are mostly predators that feed primarily on bacteria. Consequently they have a large influence on soil bacteria population. This feeding contributes to nutrient cycling by releasing nutrients that were contained in the bacteria. Examples shown here are an amoeba, a ciliate, and a flagellate.
Bacteria are single celled organisms. They are also an extremely diverse group of organisms. Bacteria are capable of degrading a very broad array of organic compounds from sugars, proteins, and amino acids, to gasoline, oil, and diesel fuel, to herbicides and insecticides, to highly toxic organic chemicals such as PCBs. Some bacteria are also extremely active in nitrogen cycling. Some have the ability to convert nitrogen from the atmosphere into forms that plants can use. We will talk more about that in a couple minutes. Others convert ammonium to nitrate (nitrification), and others convert nitrate to gaseous forms of nitrogen (denitrification). The actinomycetes, like fungi, are filamentous and often highly branched. Actinomycetes are also able to degrade complex organic compounds such as cellulose, lignin, and chitin. They tend to be most active in the final stages of decay. Actinomycetes are often abundant in humus-rich soil. They release compounds known as geosmins that account for the earthy aroma of freshly tilled land.
A logical question to ask after that brief survey is “How much diversity might be found in a single soil, lets say in an acre of soil on your farm?” We would expect to find Several species of vertibrate animals (snakes, mice, voles, chipmunks, groundhogs) Several species of earthworms 20-30 species of mites 50 – 100 species of insects Dozens of species of nematodes Hundreds of species of fungi Thousands of species of bacteria and actinomycetes. Perhaps as high as 5,000 species in a teaspoon of soil
The next question might be “How many of these organisms might we find in soil?” Just how abundant are they? The numbers are truly staggering. Its also remarkable that as the organisms get smaller, both their numbers and their weight (biomass) tend to increase. With these kinds of numbers, it is not surprising that soil organism can have significant effects on the functions of agricultural soils. Just consider the fungal numbers. 15,000 lbs is approximately the weight of 15 cows. Think of how 15 cows impact an acre of pasture. Now imagine those 15 cows on that same acre year round.
We now have a picture of the diversity and abundance of soil organisms. How do all those organisms interact with each other in the soil ecosystem? While a more diverse soil ecosystem will not always mean a more healthy and productive soil, in general this will be the case. Two reasons for this relate to stability and resilience. Stability of a system refers to its ability to keep on functioning if one aspect of that system breaks down. A diverse soil ecosystem has multiple ways of performing the same function. Like the space shuttle, if one system breaks down, there is a backup system already in place to take over. Resilience of the system refers to its ability to bounce back or resume functioning following a severe disturbance. For example the ability of a soil to return to normal functions following a severe drought.
In a diverse soil ecosystem, soil organisms are constantly interacting with each other. These interactions can occur in one of three ways, as depicted in these cartoons. Commensalism refers to the relationship of two organisms that live side-by-side, but have absolutely no effect on each other. These two guys could just as well be eating at separate tables and be just as happy. Parasitism refers to a relationship between two organism where one benefits at the expense of the other. The guy on the right may not intend to kill his dinner partner, but if this keeps up the gentleman on the left will gradually deteriorate. Symbiosis refers to relationships between organisms that are mutually beneficial. These guys are helping each other eat. Perhaps one has a fork, and the other has a knife. Working together they can eat more effectively than eating separately. Soil organisms exhibit each of these relationships. Lets look at some examples of symbiotic or beneficial relationships.
We will look at three examples of interactions and interdependency Organic matter decomposition, Symbiotic nitrogen fixation, and Mycorrhizal fungi
The process of degrading fresh organic materials added to the soil is a complex process that involves intricate interplay from numerous species. If some of these organisms are absent, decomposition and related nutrient cycling will be much slower and may stop altogether. Decomposition of complex organic material like plant litter begins with mixing and shredding. Earthworms and other soil arthropods are very adept at this. Earthworms pull litter into their burrows and mix it with soil. Insects and other macro-arthropods feed on the litter pulling it apart into small pieces. Mixing the material into the soil brings it into contact with other soil degraders and greatly increases the surface area exposed to the degraders.
When fresh organic material is mixed into the soil, bacteria respond almost immediately. They begin to feed on the simple organic compounds such as sugars, proteins, and amino acids. Bacterial numbers increase very rapidly in response to the food source. But the bacteria have a harder time with some of the more complex organic compounds in the litter, and these complex compounds sometime prevent the bacteria from getting at remaining material they could degrade. Its as if the food is locked in a cupboard.
So, lets bring on the fungi. Their populations increases more slowly than the bacteria, but they are able to degrade the complex compounds the bacteria could not get at. Things like cellulose and lignin. The degrading work of the fungi helps to open up the locked cupboard and give other microbes access to the remaining simple compounds.
The final degraders are the actinomycetes. They are the clean-up crew and come in at the final stages of decomposition. Like fungi they are able to degrade complex compounds like cellulose, lignin, and chitin.
No to be forgotten are the protists and nematodes. These are the predators, hunting around in the soil for the creatures that got fat from eating the plant litter. They feed on the bacteria and fungi and release nutrients into the soil.
Degradation of organic material involves in important balance between carbon and nitrogen in the material being degraded, in the degraders, and in the soil. When fresh litter is degraded, about 2/3 of the carbon is released as carbon dioxide, and about 1/3 goes into building new biomass. This cycle repeats over and over until the material is degraded to stable soil humus.
Bacteria and fungi have an average C/N ratio in their cells of about 8:1. This ratio must be maintained. If fresh organic material has a C/N ratio of around 24/1, this provides exactly the ratio needed to keep the bacteria and fungi C/N ratio at 8:1. This is because with 2/3 of the carbon being lost as carbon dioxide, the C/N ratio of what the microbes actually use is very close to 8:1.
If the litter has a high C/N ratio, say 90:1, the microbes will be taking up material with a C/N ratio of 30:1. This is much too high in carbon. They need nitrogen and will scavenge nitrogen from the soil in a process called N immobilization. Because microbes are much better at grabbing nitrogen than plants are, plants become nitrogen deficient. In general, if the litter C/N ratio is above 30:1, immobilization will result.
If the litter has a low C/N ratio, say 9:1, the microorganisms will be taking up material with a C/N ratio near 3:1. This is much more N than they need, and the excess N will be released to the soil as inorganic N in a process called mineralization. Mineralization will usually occur if litter C/N ratio is less than about 20:1.
Related to nitrogen availability is symbiotic nitrogen fixation, a well-known process to farmers world-wide. Many bacteria have the ability to convert nitrogen in the atmosphere into inorganic nitrogen that plants can utilize. This process, however, can be made much more efficient if the bacteria don’t have to go searching for food to keep themselves functioning. Some species of bacteria, notably the rhizobia, have developed symbiotic relationships with the roots of leguminous plants. The plant roots keep the bacteria well supplied with the sugars they need to thrive. In return the bacteria busily fix nitrogen and supply it to the plants.
Another symbiotic relationship in the soil, that of the mycorrhizal fungi, may be less familiar. Although many fungi live by degrading organic material in the soil, there are also several fungal species that rely on a close association with plants for their livelihood. These are known as mycorrhizal fungi. The term mycorrhizae means “fungus root”. These are symbiotic relationships because they benefit both plant and fungus. Some of these fungi live on the external surfaces of roots, while some actually invade the root cells of the plant. Shown here is an example of a fungus that has invaded the cells of a plant root. This type of fungus is known as a “vesicular arbuscular mycorrhizal” fungus. The VAM fungus forms arbuscules inside root cells where there is an exchange of nutrients provided by the fungus, and sugars provided by the plant. The vesicles are storage organs formed by the fungus. These types of fungal – root associations are formed with almost all important agronomic crops.
The fungi benefit from the association with plant roots because they can feed on sugars produced by the plant. Because of this the fungus does not have to compete with other soil organisms for its food. The plants benefit because in return they receive nutrients and water from the fungi. The fungal hyphae are able to reach a much greater volume of soil than the plant roots can. In many cases they extend 5 – 10 cm beyond the reach of the roots. The hyphae also can squeeze onto soil pores spaces that are too small for root hairs to penetrate. In many cases the fungi are better at extracting nutrients from soils than are plant roots. This is especially true of phosphorus, and especially true in low fertility soils. The fungi also bring water to the plant roots. Shown here is an example of the beneficial effects of mycorrhizal fungi on the growth of Douglas Fir seedlings.
Mycorrhizal fungi, and fungi generally, have a strong influence on soil structure. Their hyphal strands help to hold soil aggregates together, and they also excrete organic substances that help cement the aggregates. This is demonstrated in these photos. On the left are soil aggregates in the presence of fungi. These soil aggregates are strong enough to hold up to being shaken in water. On the right is a soil that was similarly aggregated but without fungi. The structure could not stand up to being shaken in water.
Several soil environmental factors affect the growth and activity of soil microorganisms. Some of these are factors that are altered by soil management. In general as soil organic matter increases, so too does microbial growth and activity. The type of organic matter will have some effect on the type of microbial community in the soil. The residue of a single crop may be favored by a certain microorganism. In a monoculture of that crop, the favored microorganism will predominate. Microorganisms are sensitive to oxygen status. Most microbes that are beneficial to crop production are aerobic, or require oxygen. Aerobic organisms will have a hard time thriving in a soil that is frequently flooded. To thrive, microorganisms require adequate moisture and are most active at temperatures ranging from about 65 – 100 F. If the soil is too dry, too cold or too hot, microbial activity will slow considerably. Finally soil fertility, especially adequate calcium and near neutral pH will favor growth of most desirable microorganisms.
Agricultural and soil management practices can have significant effects on soil microbial communities. In general, as the above-ground ecosystem complexity decreases, the soil ecosystem diversity will also decrease. Thus soil microorganism diversity in a crop monoculture will likely be less than a forest or grassland. The numbers of a few species may be much larger in a monoculture. Crop rotations help to increase diversity.
Tillage represents a major soil disruption and tends to decrease diversity. Incorporating plant residues will stimulate activity of those microbes that can most effectively degrade that type of plant litter.
As was mentioned a moment ago, adding lime or nutrients to an infertile soil will tend to increase microbial activity and biomass. Adding other organic materials, such as manure or green manures, provides another type of food, and helps to increase overall organic matter levels. Thus microbial activity and biomass will tend to increase from this management practice.
No till or reduced till systems are less disruptive of the soil and tend to build up organic matter at the soil surface. This tends to increase microbial diversity and activity. Pesticide applications have mixed effects on microorganisms. The chemical may be toxic to some and thus detrimental. Activity of bacteria that can degrade the chemical will be increased.
There are several mechanisms by which pesticides are inactivated and lost from soil. These include: adsorption, getting stuck onto soil particles so they cannot be taken up by plants or attacked by microbes, Leaching, being moved out of the soil profile by water percolating through the soil, Volatilizing, essentially evaporating into the air, Photodecomposition, being degraded by the ultra-violet light from the sun, Chemical decomposition, purely chemical reactions that break apart the pesticide molecule, and finally, Microbial decomposition, breaking apart the pesticide molecule due to attack by soil microbes. Although any of these mechanism can be a significant mechanism of pesticide loss for certain pesticides and for certain soils, overall the most important means is microbial degradation.
Pesticides are organic molecules and so they represent a source of food for soil microbes, especially the bacteria. Because every pesticide has a different molecular structure, not all bacteria are able to use them as food. But among the millions of bacteria in the soil, there will be some that can start to chew on the pesticide molecule. Because most pesticides are very complex molecules, it often takes several species of bacteria to degrade the molecule. Normal application of pesticides adds a very small amount or organic carbon and nitrogen to the soil, especially compared to what is already present in the soil organic matter and crop and animal residues. Thus pesticides are really not significant overall as a food or energy source for soil microbes. In most cases they are simply degraded along with the more important food molecules that microbes are consuming. Shown here is a highly simplified diagram of how 2,4-D is broken down in soil. The acetic acid group (vinegar) at the top of the ring is open to easy attack. Bacteria quickly chew it off and produce some carbon dioxide and water. The aromatic ring is much tougher to break, but bacteria with the right enzymes come along and break it open and start chewing up the carbon atoms that make up the ring, releasing harmless carbon dioxide, water, and chloride. The remaining simple 4 carbon molecule will also get chewed up until all that’s left is carbon dioxide, water, and chloride.
Once an herbicide is applied to soil, there is usually a lag time of one to two weeks during which very little degradation occurs. During this time period the bacteria that feed on the herbicide are rapidly multiplying in response to the new food source. When their population gets sufficiently large, their feeding really begins to deplete the herbicide concentration in the soil. The rate of bacteria population buildup depends on things like soil temperature and moisture. If it is warm and moist, the lag time will be short, if it is very cold or very dry it will be much longer. For good weed control with soil-applied or residual action herbicides, the herbicide concentration in soil has to stay high enough for long enough to suppress weed germination and growth. This critical soil concentration does not pertain to foliar applied herbicides such as 2,4-D. For soil applied herbicides we don’t want the lag time to be too short. But we depend on soil bacteria to degrade the herbicides so we don’t run into problems with carryover effects on the next crop, or with buildup of herbicides in soil. Thus we want herbicide concentration to drop below the maximum safe concentration by the next cropping season. Build up of herbicides in the soil could also lead to undesirable crop uptake, or movement to groundwater or surface water.
It is difficult to quickly summarize pesticide effects on soil organisms because of the huge number and variety of both soil organisms and pesticides. In addition, factors such as soil type, temperature, moisture, pH, pesticide concentration and duration of exposure all influence effects on non-target organisms. In general most herbicides have minimal adverse effects on soil organisms. Some may affect algae, which would make sense since algae are plants. Insecticides obviously can affect non-target soil insects, and some are known to be toxic to earthworms. We will look at these in more detail in a minute. Fungicides and soil fumigants have adverse effects on a broad array of beneficial fungi, nematodes, and other soil fauna in addition to the target pathogenic fungi or nematode.
Earthworms are very important soil animals as we discussed earlier. Overall, most herbicides are harmless to earthworms. The triazine class of herbicides appears to have moderate toxicity for earthworms. An indirect effect of herbicides and good weed control is a reduction in populations because of loss of plant cover and food supply for the earthworms.
Insecticides vary widely in their effects on earthworms. Keep in mind that there are numerous species of earthworms and they vary in their sensitivity to various chemicals. In general the carbamate class of insecticides are highly toxic to earthworms. The organophosphate class of insecticides as a rule are of relatively low toxicity to earthworms. There are exceptions, however. These include the chemicals listed here. Most of the natural insecticides, synthetic pyrethroids, and chitin inhibitors (Demon, Ammo, Prevail, Dimilin, Pydrin, Ambush, Pounce, Torpedo) are not known to be toxic, though several have not been tested.
The pesticides with the greatest toxicity for earthworms are carbamate fungicides and broad spectrum fumigants. Toxicity of fumigants is made worse by the fact there is little possibility for worms to avoid contact with the chemical. There are things that can be done to reduce the effects of toxic pesticides reduce the frequency of application. Allow a few years for populations to come back up to normal levels before the next application. Annual applications of a toxic chemical for several consecutive years will take its toll. Avoid broadcast applications at times when worms are most actively feeding and tend to be near the soil surface. Band application greatly reduces contact with earthworms and so minimizes the effect on the overall population.
We have opened the black box of soil microbiology, at least a little bit. Lets quickly review some of the key things we saw in that black box. Soils are highly complex and diverse ecosystems The abundance of soil organisms is immense. They are characterized by large numbers of organisms and large biomass. There are many different kinds of organisms – thousands of species of bacteria in a single teaspoon of soil This wide array of organisms carries out many different functions in the soil. Diversity in a soil ecosystem gives it stability and resilience. It increases its capacity to function under adverse conditions. The relationships among soil organisms are very complicated and highly interdependent. Some are commensile, some parasitic, some symbiotic. Many of these relationships are highly beneficial for agricultural soils. Soil management and broader agricultural production practices can significantly affect the diversity and abundance of life in the soil ecosystem.
07 soil microbiology
The Life in Your SoilAn Introduction to Soil Microbiology Prepared by: Richard Stehouwer Department of Crop & Soil Sciences
Functions of agricultural soils • Anchor plant roots • Supply water to plant roots • Provide air for plant roots • Furnish nutrients for plant growth • Release water with low levels of nutrients
Think of an ecosystem teeming with life… What comes to mind? Rainforest? Savannah?Coral reef?
Species and functionPlants, the primary producers – Vascular plants: roots of all Legume roots with crop and vegetable plants nitrogen fixing nodules – Algae Algae
The rhizosphere • The zone of soil that is significantly influenced by livingPlant rootsRoot • Usually extends about 2mm out from the root surface • The rhizosphere is enriched in organic material due to root exudates and sloughed off root cells. • Microbial activity in the rhizosphere may be 2 – 10 greater than in the bulk soil.
Species and function Fungi Protists AM fungus Amoeba Flagellate Ciliate Slime mold RedMushroom yeast
Species and function MoneraBacteria Actinomycetes
Numbers of SpeciesIn a healthy soil one might find… Several species of vertebrate animals Several species of earthworms 20-30 species of mites 50-100 species of insects Dozens of species of nematodes Hundreds of species of fungi Thousands of species of bacteria and actinomycetes
Abundance of soil organisms Number Biomass1Organism per gram soil (lbs per (~1 tsp) acre 6”)Earthworms – 100 – 1,500Mites 1-10 5 – 150Nematodes 10 – 100 10 – 150Protozoa up to 100 thousand 20 – 200Algae up to 100 thousand 10 – 500Fungi up to 1 million 1,000 – 15,000Actinomycetes up to 100 million 400 – 5,000Bacteria up to 1 billion 400 – 5,0001 Biomass is the weight of living organisms
Benefits of diversity• Ecosystem Stability. Soil has several ways to accomplish the same function (system redundancy)• Ecosystem Resilience. Soil has the ability to bounce back from a severe disturbance
Organic matter decomposition Everyone is involved• Earthworms Corn leaf pulled into – Mix fresh organic materials nightcrawler burrow into the soil – Brings organic matter into contact with soil microorganisms Millepede • Soil insects and other arthropods – Shred fresh organic material into much smaller particles – Allows soil microbes to access Ants all parts of the organic residue
Organic matter decomposition Everyone is involved• Bacteria Bacteria on fungal strands – Population increases rapidly when organic matter is added to soil – Quickly degrade simple compounds - sugars, proteins, amino acids Spiral bacteria – Have a harder time degrading cellulose, lignin, starch – Cannot get at easily degradable molecules that are protected Rod bacteria
Organic matter decomposition Everyone is involved• Fungi – Grow more slowly and Fungus on poplar leaf efficiently than bacteria when organic matter is added to soil Tree trunk – Able to degrade complex rotted by fungi organic molecules such as cellulose, lignin, starch – Give other soil microorganisms access to simpler molecules that were protected by cellulose or lignin Fairy ring Soil fungus
Organic matter decomposition Everyone is involved• Actinomycetes – The cleanup crew – Become dominant in the final stages of decomposition – Attack the highly complex and decay resistant compounds • Cellulose • Chitin (insect shells) • Lignin
Organic matter decomposition Everyone is involved• Protists and nematodes, Amoeba the predators – Feed on the primary decomposers (bacteria, fungi, actinomycetes) – Release nutrients (nitrogen) Bacteria-feeding nematode contained in the bodies of the primary decomposers Rotifer Predatory nematode
Organic matter decomposition Carbon and Nitrogen CyclingDuring each cycle ofdegradation about 2/3 ofthe organic carbon isused for energy and During each cycle ofreleased as carbon CO2 degradation about 1/3 of the organic carbon isdioxide (CO2) used to build microbial cells or becomes part of Plant litter the soil organic matter CO2 Bacteria, Fungi Soil organic matter Nematodes, protists, humus
Organic matter decomposition Carbon and Nitrogen Ratio CO2 Litter 2/3 of carbonC/N ratio released as CO2 around C/N 24:1 ratio 8:1 Average C/N ratio Microbial C/N ratio is of bacteria and maintained at 8:1 with no fungi is 8:1 uptake or release of N
Organic matter decomposition Carbon and Nitrogen Ratios CO2 Litter 2/3 of carbon C/N ratio released as CO2 around C/N 90:1 ratio 30:1 Average C/N ratio Microbial C/N ratio is of bacteria and maintained at 8:1 by taking up N from soil fungi is 8:1Soil N Immobilization
Organic matter decomposition Carbon and Nitrogen Ratios CO2 Litter 2/3 of carbonC/N ratio released as CO2 around C/N 9:1 ratio 3:1 Average C/N ratio Microbial C/N ratio is maintained at 8:1 by of bacteria and releasing N to the soil fungi is 8:1 Soil N Mineralization
Symbiotic Nitrogen Fixation• Many bacteria have the Rhizobia bacteria ability to “fix” or convert atmospheric nitrogen into Rhizobia nodules on bean roots forms that plants can utilize.• Some of these bacteria, notably the rhizobia species, form symbiotic relationships with legumenous plants – The plant provide Rhizobia with a steady source of food Effect of rhizobia inoculation on (sugars) soybean – The rhizobia provides the plant with nitrate nitrogen – Efficiency nitrogen fixation is greatly increased by this relationship Inoculated Not inoculated
Mycorrhizal fungi Plant/fungi symbiosis • Mycorrhizae means “fungus root” • Fungi live in close association with plant roots • May live on the external surface of roots (ectomycorrhizal) • Fungal hyphae may invade root cells (endomycorrhizal)Root cells VAM fungi growing in symbiotic association with a plant root. Fungal hyphae Vesicles – food storage Arbuscule – exchanges nutrients with plant
Mycorrhizal fungi Plant/fungi symbiosis• Plants supply fungi with sugars (energy)• Fungal hyphae grow 5 – 10 cm beyond plant roots • Extend to soil pores too large for root hairs • Increase plant nutrient supply, especially phosphorus • Increase plant water supply Growth of Douglas Fir seedlings No mycorrhizal fungi With mycorrhizal fungi
Mycorrhizal fungi Soil structure benefitMycorrhizal fungi present Mycorrhizal fungi absent• Soil structure stabilized and • Soil structure is weak strengthened • Structure is not maintained• Structure is maintained when when immersed in water immersed in water
Soil factors that affect microorganism growth• Organic matter• Aeration (oxygen)• Moisture and temperature• Soil fertility and pH
Effects of soil management practices on soil organismsForest Grassland Crop Crop rotation Monoculture Div es ers s it y de c r ea rea y inc ses sit r Dive
Effects of soil managementpractices on soil organisms Increased intensity of tillage tends to decrease microbial diversity and microbial biomass
Effects of soil managementpractices on soil organisms Application of lime or fertilizer to infertile soils tends to increase microbial activity and biomass Addition of organic materials such as manure tends to increase microbial biomass and activity
Effects of soil management practices on soil organisms Maintaining high soil organic matter levels and residue cover on the soil surface (no till systems) tends to increase microbial diversity and activity Pesticide applicationshave variable effects on microbial populations
Herbicide Decomposition/Fate Pesticides are degraded into inactive substances (e.g., CO2 ) or rendered inactive by several mechanisms:– Adsorption to soil components– Leaching out of plant available zone– Volatility - escapes into air and degrades– Photodecomposition - degraded by sunlight– Chemical decomposition - broken down by reactions– Microbial degradation - primary means
Pesticide degradation CO2 OCH2COOH CO2 H2O H2O Cl OH Cl- Cl Cl COOH CH22,4-D Cl CH2 COOH
Pesticide degradation Critical concentrations for soil-applied or residual herbicides Minimum concentration for good weed controlHerbicide conc. in soil Maximum concentration for safe recrop Time
Pesticide effects on non-target soil organisms• Herbicides – Minimal known effects soil microbes or soil animals – Some may harm certain algae• Insecticides – Some effects on non-target soil insects – Some effects on earthworms• Fungicides and soil fumigants – Significant effects on a wide array of fungi and soil animals.
Pesticide effects on earthworms• Most herbicides are harmless to earthworms – Triazines (atrazine, simazine) appear to have moderate effects on earthworms – Removing weeds may have indirect effects on earthworms by decreasing plant cover and food supply.
Pesticide effects on earthworms• Insecticides have varied effects on earthworms – Most carbamates (Temik, Ficam, Sevin, Furadan) are highly toxic. – Most organophosphates are low to moderate toxicity. Very toxic exceptions are: • phorate (Thimet) • chlopyrifos (Dursban, Equity, Tenure) • ethoprophos (Mocap) • ethyl-parathion • isazophos – Natural or synthetic pyrethroids are not known to be toxic
Pesticide effects on earthworms– Carbamate fungicides (carbendazim, benomyl) have toxic effects on earthworms– Broad spectrum fumigants (fungicides, nematicides) tend to be very toxic to earthworms.– Reducing toxic effects • Occasional application of even toxic chemicals will have little long-term impact on earthworm populations • Repeated applications over a long period will decrease earthworm numbers and activity • Avoid broadcasting toxic chemicals in spring and fall when earthworms are most active • Band application of granular products greatly reduces earthworm mortality from highly toxic chemicals
The black box is open• A healthy soil ecosystem is extremely diverse and complex – Large numbers of organisms – Many different kinds organisms – Many different functions• A diverse soil ecosystem is stabile and resilient• Soil organisms have developed many complex interdependencies that benefit agricultural soil functions.• Soil management activities can significantly affect the life in your soil.
Thanks to: Dr. Mary Ann Bruns, Soil Microbial Ecologist, Penn State Univ. for reviewing this presentation and for providing some of the photographs Photo CreditsPedatory nematode: Kathy Merifield, Oregon Rotifer: Nikon Microscopy, Inc. State Univ. Fairy ring: Univ. Tenn.Bacterial and root feeding nematode: Elaine Millipede, mite, springtail: Penn State Univ. Insect Ingham, Oregon State Univ. FairNematode: Mark Blaxter, Univ. Edinburgh Disking: Colorado State Univ.Earthworms: Clive Edwards, Ohio State Univ. Strip Crop: Ingolf VoglerFungi on poplar: Bryce Kendrick No till corn: Mich. State Univ.Mycorrhizae and soil aggregation: Ted St.John, Rangeland: North Dakota St. Univ. USDA-ARS Rhizobia: Frank Dazzo, Mich. State Univ.Amoeba: Ohio State Univ. – Lima Actinomycetes: Paul R. August, Univ. Minn.Water bear: Kamamusi Soybean growth: RIAL SiebersdorfCiliate: BioMedia Products Rod bacteria: Univ. GeorgiaBear in water: Katami Nat’l Park, Alaska