Microbe Milieu

Microbe Milieu

Soil ecologists from Colorado State University (CSU) recently collected about 600 soil samples from Manhattan’s Central Park. The are hunting for soil microbes in support of the Global Soil Biodiversity Initiative (http://www.globalsoilbiodiversity.org/), which researcher Kelly Ramirez formerly of CSU heads. They were pleasantly surprised at the richness of diversity found in this urban environment. Microbes have a huge impact on soil make-up and chemistry, as well as what can survive and thrive there, yet so far, the Park’s microbial community has been unknown territory.

Central Park is bordered on all sides by a dense concrete jungle,  making the wealth of microbial biodiversity even more of a surprise to researchers.

Central Park is bordered on all sides by a dense concrete jungle, making the wealth of microbial biodiversity even more of a surprise to researchers.

The 10 researchers making up this team of soil ecologists spread out around the park and began to dig. This was a field study like no other, pedestrians and onlookers abounded, but with little reaction (it being NYC and all). However activity surrounding them was non-stop, making for a very interesting field day. What they found was even more exciting; over 170,000 varieties of microbes. No one expected an urban park to compare to wilderness areas sampled, or come close to this kind of diversity.

Ramirez says; “There’s as much biodiversity in the soils of Central Park as we found in the soil … from the Arctic to Antarctica,” this includes the temperate and tropical forests and deserts along the way. Numbers of species are averaged for those regions, some having more and some having less biodiversity than the park. Interestingly, the research team found 2,000 species entirely unique to Central Park.

Now the question remains as to why an intensely managed, human-impacted, urban park would have this kind of diversity. People add plants, fertilizers, pesticides and various and sundry other things to the environment constantly, additionally it is bombarded by traffic, pollution and an urban waste stream…so what does it all mean?  Well, it seems to have created a unique environment for microscopic critters to grown and thrive.  Read more about the study and findings in the “Proceedings of the Royal Society B http://rspb.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/281/1795/20141988.abstract.