Collaborative Research: Climactic and environmental constraints on aboveground-belowground linkages and diversity across a latitudinal gradient in Ant

Project: Research project

Project Details


Project Summary The Antarctic Peninsula is a region experiencing rapid environmental changes, making it susceptible to alterations in species diversity and distribution, both above- and belowground. However, we lack a firm understanding of soil biodiversity, including linkages with the aboveground community and relationship to changing environmental parameters. This strongly limits our ability to predict the consequences of global change for soil communities. In this project, the investigators will combine expertise in Antarctic soil biogeochemistry and biology in an international collaboration to determine the nature and strength of aboveground-belowground linkages in influencing soil community biogeography and diversity over a latitudinal gradient of environmental and climatic conditions. We will (1) increase our understanding of current biogeography and diversity by providing in-depth knowledge of soil community composition and complexity as it relates to environmental (above- and belowground) and climatic characteristics; and (2) determine the nature of aboveground-belowground community linkages over varying spatial scales and quantify how the strength of linkages changes along a gradient of environmental and climatic conditions to influence the dominant taxa. Soil organisms from all three domains of life (bacteria, archaea, fungi, and invertebrates) will be sampled at 12 sites across a latitudinal gradient along the Antarctic Peninsula. Key aboveground types (grass, moss, lichen, algae, and fellfield) will be sampled to fully characterize diversity and the soil environment. At five sites, we will more closely characterize soil communities associated with specific vegetation types, and structural equation modeling will be used to identify aboveground-belowground linkage pathways and quantify link strengths under varying conditions. Intellectual Merit: No studies have performed comprehensive cross-taxa investigations of soil communities and their relation to a large suite of environmental variables at multiple spatial scales in maritime Antarctica and, while it is known that vegetation is important for soil communities, none have investigated whether the link between the aboveground vegetation and soil communities is influenced by local environmental and climatic conditions. This study will contribute to an increased knowledge of the distribution of soil biota and patterns of biodiversity within the Antarctic Peninsula region as well as a better understanding of the relationship between aboveground and belowground communities through structural equation modeling. In particular, this will allow us to better understand how soil biodiversity and biogeography will respond to alterations in aboveground communities that are predicted as a result of climate change and human activity. Such information is essential considering the rapid environmental changes observed on the Peninsula. In comparison to other ice-free regions of Antarctica such as the McMurdo Dry Valleys, our knowledge about the aboveground and belowground environmental parameters that drive soil diversity and distribution on the Antarctic Peninsula is much less complete, despite the fact that the soil communities of the Peninsula are more complex and diverse. Gaining a similar level of understanding as we have for the Dry Valley ecosystems will represent a significant increase in our understanding of the drivers of Antarctic soil biodiversity as a whole. Broader Impacts: The PI on this project is a female scientist and new investigator. This project will integrate research and education with undergraduates by providing the opportunity for multiple students to be trained in, and across, several ecological and biological disciplines in an internationally collaborative setting. Ball is at the primarily undergraduate campus of Arizona State University West, which traditionally serves a diverse student population with a high percentage of first-generation college students. Additionally, our team will include teachers, K-12 students, and the public via outreach activities. Ball authors the Polar Soils Blog, a highly-used educational resource for K-12 classrooms and an effective way to communicate our research to the general public. Through the Ecology Explorers program at ASU, Ball will share project information and results through teacher workshops and classroom visits. We will also target less traditional outlets such as the Nature Education Knowledge Project designed to increase students access to scientific knowledge, as well as the Journal of Vizualized Experiments. Further, the project will increase research networks by connecting personnel engaged in different national Antarctic research programs, and through this provide the opportunity for greater collaboration between the Australian, American, and British programs.
Effective start/end date10/1/149/30/18


  • National Science Foundation (NSF): $126,110.00

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