Climate change is hitting ever closer to home, with more and more extreme weather events in our region, such as intense rainfall, longer periods of drought and longer heatwaves. To study the impacts of climate change, researchers rely on climate data derived from weather station networks. It is however the local climate near the ground that dictate ecosystem processes such as primary production and hydrological, nutrient, and carbon cycles. These microclimates arise primarily from the soil, vegetation, and topography, but are also affected by land use and land management, especially in urban and anthropogenic environments. Assessing microclimates can – in contrast to the current weather station networks - provide ecologically relevant and sound climate data for modelling biodiversity and ecosystem functions.
Important drivers in ecosystem functioning are the soil microbial communities. Both climate change or changes in land use are shown to cause losses in microbial diversity and abundance, and are thus linked to a lower stability of the ecosystem functions. Attempts to quantify the impact of climate change and anthropogenic land use on microbial communities are however hampered by the absence of accurate data, both on the local climatic conditions (e.g. the localized severity of heatwaves and droughts) and on the associated microbial communities (e.g. practical issues limiting measurements on private lands).
Here, we propose to assess 250 carefully selected privately-managed soils for bacterial and fungal diversity, composition and abundance. By framing this project proposal within the large-scale citizen science project "CurieuzeNeuzen In De Tuin", we have access to a widespread network of 5000 microclimate weather stations over Flanders, quantifying soil temperature and soil moisture in-situ. In addition, information on a wide array of other soil conditions, such as pH, soil texture, bulk density and organic carbon content, as well as information on local land use and management will be obtained in this project. By combining these datasets with DNA-analysis of the soil microbial community, we can identify the factors driving (or disturbing) the microbial diversity, composition and abundance and even identify keystone species for a healthy soil.