Integrating soil microbial community composition into soil survey as an index to soil health

This project is in collaboration NRCS scientists and is supported by the NCSS. Sequencing will be done as part of the Earth Microbiome Project.

Biota are probably the most dynamic attribute of soil ecosystems, varying both in space and time. Although dormancy may be a relatively common state of bacteria and fungi in soil, when conditions become favorable, microorganisms can respond quickly as some having generation times of less than a day. Advances in molecular tools (e.g., high throughput sequencing) now make it possible to sample sufficiently densely in space, frequently in time, and deeply in diversity to capture the dynamics of the soil microbial community, and thereby capture this aspect of soil ecosystem dynamics. This is important and relevant because the carbon and nutrient cycling processes carried out by soil bacteria and fungi are central to the proper functioning and health of soil ecosystems.


  1. The first objective is to integrate measurements of the soil microbial community (abundance and compositional diversity of bacteria and of fungi) with existing soil physical and chemical data for soils that are mapped. This will allow us to generate a first-generation spatiotemporal map of soil biology using Oregon, with its diversity of soils and land uses, as a test case for potential application nationwide.
  2. The second objective is to examine potential relationships between soil microbial communities and soil health, by pairing soils that NRCS scientists have categorizing into “good” and “poor” condition. This will allow a solid baseline for subsequent research to examine the robustness of these relationships.


Soils representative of several major land resource areas (MLRAs) within Oregon will be sampled for microbial characterization. The spatial and temporal abundance and composition of bacterial and fungal communities will be measured.