The study published in the journal for the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences provides critical insights on the factors that control changes in the biodiversity of soil bacteria, fungi, protists, and invertebrates over many millennia. The findings indicate that these changes in soil biodiversity are driven by changes in plant cover and soil acidification during ecosystem development.
“This research provides a new framework for understanding soil and ecosystem biodiversity, which is fundamental to maintaining our global biosphere and managing for future global change” said Mark A. Williams, an associate professor in the School of Plant and Environmental Sciences in the Virginia Tech College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.
Soil microbes and animals, from tiny soil bacteria to earthworms, are unsung heroes in our environment, providing hundreds of billions of dollars in ecosystem services. These organisms are critical to maintaining the global biosphere and human existence. As a thought experiment during classes, Williams often asks his students what would happen if all of these diverse organisms were to become extinct. “Humans would die, too,” is the typical answer.