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Sorghum is the fifth most important cereal in the world. In sub-Saharan Africa, many farmers rely on this grain for food and feed. But Striga, a parasitic weed, can have a devastating impact on crop yield. With an 8-million-dollar grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, an international team will now explore the potential of soil microbes to offer crop protection. The Netherlands Institute of Ecology (NIOO-KNAW) is coordinating this 5-year project.
‘Relationships’ in the soil become stronger during the process of nature restoration. Although all major groups of soil life are already present in former agricultural soils, they are not really ‘connected’ at first. These connections need time to (literally) grow, and fungi are the star performers here. A European research team led by the Netherlands Institute of Ecology (NIOO-KNAW) has shown the complete network of soil life for the first time. This Wednesday, the results of the extensive study are published in Nature Communications.
Tiny predators in the soil can literally sniff out their prey: soil bacteria, which communicate with each other using scent. A team of researchers from the Netherlands Institute of Ecology (NIOO-KNAW) has discovered that these predators - called protists - 'eavesdrop' on the bacteria's communication. It's a discovery that opens up perspectives for agriculture. The results are available online this month in The ISME Journal, from the publishers of Nature.
55 trillion kilograms: that's how much carbon could be released into the atmosphere from the soil by mid-century if climate change isn't stopped. And all in the form of greenhouse gases such as CO2 and methane. Tom Crowther (NIOO-KNAW) and his team are publishing the results of a worldwide study into the effects of climate change on the soil in the issue of Nature that came out on 1 December.
Wouldn't it be great if we could tell the state of an ecosystem or the like - healthy or heading for a crisis - by keeping track of a few key signals? Thanks to the theory of ‘tipping points’, that’s not unthinkable. Now a team of researchers led by Alena Gsell of the Netherlands Institute of Ecology (NIOO-KNAW) has tested early warning signals: in lakes. In the Early Edition of PNAS online, they conclude that predicting works...but not yet in all cases.
In nature, plants cannot grow without soil biota such as fungi and bacteria. Successful plants are able to harness positive, growth-promoting soil organisms while avoiding the negative effects of others. Which plant traits can predict these interactions, or the success of a plant? Researchers and plant breeders would like to know. In a paper in the Journal of Ecology of August 24, a team from the Netherlands Institute of Ecology (NIOO-KNAW), Wageningen University and the Universität Leipzig tested exactly this and found thick roots to be a leading trait.
Restoring nature, for instance on former farmland? That works a lot faster, more precise, and less disruptive via soil inoculation. Take a bit of healthy soil from a natural area close by and restore the desired type of nature within a couple of years. In the journal Nature Plants, the Netherlands Institute of Ecology (NIOO-KNAW) and Natuurmonumenten (Society for Nature Conservation) also solve a long-lasting subject of discussion: it’s the soil bugs that steer such nature restoration.
Songbirds change their behaviour and timing when nestboxes are exposed to artificial light at night. "They become light sleepers, literally and metaphorically", says Maaike de Jong (NIOO-KNAW). She successfully defended her thesis on the effects of different colours of light at Wageningen University on Friday. The most surprising effect she's found? Some birds are forced to become more monogamous...
How can we tell if climate change really affects the population dynamics of a species? "Changes to behaviour, weight or appearance don't always mean population numbers are de- or increasing." NIOO-researcher Martijn van de Pol presents a novel approach to answering the question in the June issue of Ecology Letters.
Epigenetics is a fast-growing field of research all over the world. Ecological epigenetics has now been further advanced thanks to the development of a new research technique. ‘This technique is cheaper and faster and enables research that was previously impossible to conduct.’ The time has come to look at how important epigenetic changes really are for dealing with climate change, plagues and other stress-factors. The research team led by the Netherlands Institute of Ecology (NIOO-KNAW) is publishing its technique in the scientific journal Nature Methods.