Microbes in Central Park: if they can make it there...

Central Park
© Luke Redmond

Microbes in Central Park: if they can make it there...


You’ll find as much biodiversity in the soil of New York’s Central Park as in a tropical rainforest. That’s the surprising conclusion of research conducted by Dr. Kelly Ramirez, microbial ecologist at NIOO-KNAW in Wageningen. In fact, the same soil microbes that thrive in forests, tundras and deserts can be found living right beneath New York.

The study was led by Colorado State University, where Dr. Ramirez was doing postdoctoral research at the time, together with the University of Colorado at Boulder.

The researchers analyzed 596 soil samples from Central Park and found thousands of different organisms. Less than one fifth of these had been previously documented in databases describing microbial life.

Healthy soil

Little or nothing is known about the conditions these organisms thrive under or what role they may play in soil fertility; most of them do not even have a name.

What is clear, however, is that a healthy microbial community is closely linked to the availability of clean air, water and food.


The researchers compared the samples from Central Park to 52 soil samples taken from locations spanning the globe, from Alaska to Antarctica. The only area that didn't overlap with New York was Antarctica. Otherwise, the breadth of biodiversity beneath Central Park turned out to be surprisingly similar to that found elsewhere.

A possible explanation is that the composition of microbial communities is much less dependent on the climate than the types of plants or animals that are able to survive in a particular location. For microbes, factors such as the acidity of the soil or the availability of carbon are much more important than how hot or dry the climate is.

New York, New York

Consequently, diverse microbial communities can thrive in very different climates, as long as the soil conditions are equally diverse. This applies to the frozen arctic tundra as much as to the Big Apple.

Or as Frank Sinatra used to sing about New York: if you can make it there, you'll make it anywhere...