Collectively, soil microorganisms create what is known as a soil microbiome—a key component of soil that supports plant growth and nutrient cycling. Changes in the environment, such as drought, have largely unknown consequences on soil microbiome functioning. It is vital to understand how key processes carried out by interacting members of the soil microbiome are impacted by climate change. Ultimately, advances in knowledge about the soil microbiome could lead to better management of plant productivity, soil carbon storage, and possibly the land-atmosphere exchange of carbon dioxide.
To tackle this challenge, the Genomic Science Program within the Department of Energy’s Office of Biological and Environmental Research supports the Phenotypic Response of the Soil Microbiome to Environmental Perturbations Science Focus Area (SFA), also called the Soil Microbiome SFA, led by PNNL.
PNNL's Soil Microbiome SFA is focused on understanding the basic biology underpinning how interactions among various soil microbial community members, across trophic levels, lead to the emergence of community functions. Moisture, in particular, drives microbial interactions and influences everything from cell function to substrate fate within soils. The group predicts this results in repeatable, predictable phenotypes. The sum of these phenotypes comprises the “soil metaphenome”. Understanding how the soil metaphenome shifts in response to moisture will provide a basis for modeling and predicting these shifts in reaction network responses.