Researchers uncover biodiversity below ground

An overhead shot of a farm with rows of different crops.

Researchers at Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) are taking a snapshot of soil biodiversity in Eastern Canada, and they’re looking for landowners in Québec to take part in the sampling campaign during summer 2023.

Led in Ontario and Quebec by Dr. Franck Stefani and in partnership with his colleague Dr. Pierre Comeau in New Brunswick, these AAFC researchers have embarked on a groundbreaking project to record the diverse levels and species of soil microbes in Canada.

”If we want to see how soil biodiversity drifts because of climate change, this will provide us with a baseline,” Dr. Stefani explains.

“Usually, [producers] do a standard physical and chemical analysis so they know what’s missing in their soil and how much [nutrition] to apply,” continues Dr. Stefani. His team’s analysis takes this one step further by measuring not only nutrients, but the levels of bacteria, fungi, nematodes and mites in the soil samples and sharing this with producers. This data will be matched against the field’s history of activities – including cropping systems, cover crops, tillage practices, fertilizers and other inputs – to help Dr. Stefani and his team look for links between farm practices and soil health. “We suspect that the soil microbiome and plant health are much more interconnected than previously thought,” he predicts.

Tools for taking soil samples: one clipboard, three bags and two extractors for soil cores.

Last summer, Dr. Stefani and his team sampled from 313 sites spread out over 140,000 km2 in central and southern Ontario – specifically in the Georgian Bay, Lake Simcoe-Rideau and Lake Erie-Lake Ontario ecoregions. From woodlands to grasses, these diverse landscapes and soils included the fields of 94 different producers. 27 of the farms used regenerative farming practices to maintain and build soil health.

By working with producers, Dr. Stefani has had an added opportunity to raise awareness about the importance of soil microbes and the importance of keeping the ground under our feet healthy. “Without soil, there would be no life on Earth,” he says. Healthy soils help mitigate climate change, filter water and support biodiversity both above and below ground. “It is a very thin skin that allows all of us to be alive. That’s what makes Earth different from all the other planets that we know of.”

As a bonus, any new and unique organisms that they find in the samples will be added to AAFC’s reference collections of bacteria and fungi.

Dr. Stefani and his team will be looking to sample across the province of Québec this summer. Interested in taking part? Each site visit only takes around half an hour, and it is a great opportunity to meet the people who are helping Canadian farmers be leaders in sustainable agriculture.

To find out more and to take part, contact the Canadian Soil Biodiversity Observatory.


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