While the others jetted off the Ice, Ed, Breana and Abigail got to work setting up a new experiment to study the relationship between soil biodiversity and soil processes near Lake Fryxell. Soil processes include things like soil respiration, which represents the total activity of soil organisms, and the transfer of nutrients between organisms. These processes are carried out by a variety of organisms that inhabit the soil, including bacteria, fungi, protists, nematodes, tardigrades and rotifers, but we do not know how the composition of the soil community influences processes rates. For example, a simple soil community consisting of just bacteria and fungi may result in slower soil process rates than a more complex community consisting of bacteria, fungi, protists and various microscopic animals and this is what our experiment aims to investigate.

Soil was sterilized by exposing it to high temperatures and pressures, which kills all the animals and microbes. Then we placed the sterile soil in panty hose and buried it out in the field. We use to panty hose to contain the soil so we can find it again when want to see what has colonized the soil. Over the next three years we’ll collect the soil from the field site to see which organisms have colonized it and measure some biogeochemical properties, including soil respiration and the amount of different nutrients in the soil.

The dead nematode bodies coil up during the sterilization process.
Fried nematrodes

Sterilized soil was placed in panty hose and left in the field.
Panty hose plots