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2024 | Impact of Hydrologic Conditions on Soil Microbiome Dynamics

person holding soil in their hand

FACULTY SEED GRANT | Global Change Center

A Nation-wide Investigation of the Impact of Hydrologic Conditions on Soil Microbiome Dynamics


  • Dr. Jingqiu Liao, Civil and Environmental Engineering
  • Dr. Durelle Scott, Biological Systems Engineering
  • Dr. Brian Strahm, Forest Resources and Environmental Conservation
  • Dr. Amy Pruden, Civil and Environmental Engineering

Climate change has greatly altered the global water cycle, leading to changes in precipitation patterns and soil hydrology. As a key component of terrestrial ecosystems, the soil microbiome stabilizes ecosystems by producing biomass, recycling nutrients, and capturing resources. Studying the interactions between soil microbiomes and hydrological conditions is thus critical to advance knowledge on the impact of climate change on ecosystem resilience and resistance, and to inform strategy development to mitigate its detrimental effect. While climate warming and the concomitant reductions in soil moisture have been widely identified as important environmental stressors that can limit soil microbial diversity, our understanding of how hydrological conditions influence the soil microbiome is still limited.

The goal of this project is to advance the understanding of the influences of hydrologic conditions on soil microbiome dynamics at a nationwide scale. Our major hypothesis is that changes in hydrological conditions alter microbial composition and interspecific interactions and pose heterogeneous selection on the soil microbiome across the United States. We will leverage a unique paired soil microbiome and environmental dataset obtained by the project PI in a recent nationwide soil sampling campaign and employ machine learning and ecological analyses to test our hypothesis. Specifically, we will develop machine learning models to predict microbial diversity with hydrological variables, identify microbial co-occurrence network features associated with hydrological conditions, and assess the influence of hydrological conditions on microbial community assembly. Completion of this project will advance a predictive understanding of large-scale consequences of hydrologic conditions on the soil microbes at a community level. It will also provide fundamental insights into ways to enhance ecosystem resilience and resistance through soil microbiome manipulation in response to climate change.