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Beneath the Earth, the ‘Black Box’ of Soil Holds a Key to Crop Growth

Like much of what lies just beneath the earth’s surface, soil microbes present a mystery. University of Florida (UF) scientist Sarah Strauss seeks to help untangle the web of intrigue surrounding soil microbes to improve agricultural production in Florida and globally.

Strauss is working on a four-year $450,000 AFRI grant from NIFA. She’s conducting the research with Patrick Inglett, a UF associate professor of soil and water sciences in Gainesville, and Catherine Reardon, a microbiologist with the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service in Pendleton, Oregon. The scientists are studying biocrusts, thin layers of bacteria, fungi, moss and algae that grow together on the surface of some soils.

So far, researchers have found that the biocrusts appear to improve the nitrogen concentrations in soils in some citrus groves. Next, they want to find out how much nitrogen the microbes can make, whether this is enough nitrogen to help plants grow, and if trees are using the nitrogen from the crusts.

“If we can better understand the interactions between these microbes and plants, we might be able to alter soil conditions to increase the positive interactions — those that benefit crop production — and minimize the negative interactions, such as diseases and the loss of nutrients,” Strauss said.

Read the full story at UF/IFAS Blogs.

Want to read about more impacts like this? Check out Fresh from the Field, a weekly bulletin showcasing transformative impacts made by grantees funded by NIFA.

Farm Bill Priority Areas
Plant health, production, and products;
Bioenergy, natural resources, and environment
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