Soil bacteria evolve with climate change – EurekAlert

While evolution is normally thought of as occurring over millions of years, researchers at the University of California, Irvine have discovered that bacteria can evolve in response to climate change in 18 months. In a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, biologists from UCI found that evolution is one way that soil microbes might deal with global warming.

Soil microbiomes – the collection of bacteria and other microbes in soil – are a critical engine of the global carbon cycle; microbes decompose the dead plant material to recycle nutrients back into the ecosystem and release carbon back into the atmosphere. Multiple environmental factors influence the composition and functioning of soil microbiomes, but these responses are usually studied from an ecological perspective, asking which microbial species increase or decrease in abundance as environmental conditions change. In the current study, the UCI team investigated if bacterial species in the soil also evolve when their environment changes.

“We know that evolution can occur very fast in bacteria, as in response to antibiotics, but we do not know how important evolution might be for bacteria in the environment with ongoing climate change,” said Dr. Alex Chase, the lead author of the study and a former graduate student at UCI.

Several inherent characteristics should enable soil microbes to adapt rapidly to new climate conditions. Microbes are abundant and can reproduce in only hours, so a rare genetic mutation that