Indigenous soil microbes and multi-planting strategies for increasing soil carbon and function in dryland restoration

Dr Miriam Muñoz-Rojas1,2,3, Dr Todd E.  Erickson2,3, Mrs Amber M. Bateman2,3, Dr Angela Chilton1, Dr David Merritt2,3

1Centre for Ecosystem Science, School of Biological, Earth & Environmental Sciences, University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia, 2School of Biological Sciences, University of Western Australia, Crawley, AU, 3Kings Park Science, Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions, Kings Park, Australia

Global environmental changes and other anthropogenic impacts are rapidly transforming the structure and functioning of ecosystems worldwide. These changes are leading to soil degradation with an estimated 25 % of the global land surface being affected. The need to develop cost-effective large-scale solutions to restore disturbed landscapes becomes imperative to preserve biodiversity and achieve ecosystem functionality and sustainability. As part of a large-scale industry-academia partnership, we have developed a soil research program that aims to build knowledge and design strategies to restore degraded landscapes in Western Australia and other dryland regions worldwide. Within this program, a series of laboratory experiments, glasshouse studies, and field trials, have been conducted over the last five years to advance our knowledge on soil limitations and to provide solutions to enhance soil carbon levels and restore above and belowground biodiversity in restoration programs. These studies include (i) the analysis of the influence of multi-species planting on soil organic carbon and microbial activity and diversity (ii) the evaluation of soil physicochemical and microbiological indicators to assess functionality of restored soils in degraded semiarid ecosystems and (ii) the development of nature-based strategies based on bio-tools (e.g. inoculation of soil biocrust cyanobacteria) to increase soil carbon and enhance overall soil function. In this presentation we will highlight some key findings of these studies that include the benefits of combining diverse plant species and using native microbes and organic amendments for increasing soil carbon and promote soil function in reconstructed soil substrates. We will also discuss the potential applicability of these bio-technological approaches in landscape-scale restoration programs.


Dr Miriam Muñoz-Rojas is an ARC DECRA Research Fellow at the University of New South Wales in Sydney (Australia). Her current research aims to develop innovative technologies that use native soil microorganisms to enhance ecosystem function in ecosystem restoration. This interdisciplinary research combines ecophysiological, biogeochemical and molecular techniques with experimental and modelling approaches to explore the functioning of natural and restored biodiverse ecosystems.

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