Microbial drivers of N2O emissions in the Biosphere 2 Tropical Rainforest

B2 Rainforest floor

Post by Juliana Young

The Rainforest at Biosphere 2 is a unique study system because it operates under very high temperatures and has adapted to the Arizona heat. In 2002, Dr. Joost van Haren studied nitrous oxide (N2O) flux in the Rainforest at Biosphere 2 and found that there is a high and low pulse zone of emissions of this gas under the condition of post-drought (van Haren et al., 2005). Our study builds from the foundations of this experiment. We are testing what could be responsible for the spatial difference in N2O gas fluxes. While there are many facets of the Rainforest to study, my interests and area of research focuses on the climatic parameter of drought and rewetting responses of the microbial community in the soil of the Rainforest. Currently, with the help of Dr. Laura Meredith and Dr. Aditi Sengupta, I am characterizing the soil microbial communities of the Rainforest and how their abundance or metabolism can be related to the N2O gas flux.

B2 Rainforest waterfall

Our data includes five sites and 3 depths at each site in the Rainforest that were sequenced using 16S rRNA gene for bacteria and archaea and ITS2 for fungi. We consider these data alongside edaphic factors like soil moisture, average pH, average electric conductivity, total carbon, total nitrogen and carbon to nitrogen ratio and gas fluxes including nitrous oxide, methane, and carbon dioxide concurrently collected during the 60-day experiment. Current analysis is focused on linking microbial metabolism or abundance to pulses in nitrous oxide in the Rainforest at Biosphere 2. Correlations between abiotic factors are also being related to microbial communities within each specific sampling site.

Tropical environments generate a lot of the Earth’s nitrous oxide through biogeophysical processes that are not well understood; therefore, studying the microbes and nitrous oxide emissions could potentially give insight into the complexity of this greenhouse gas. To complement our current data, we are planning metagenomic or targeted amplicon sequencing for genes that are shown to be highly conserved for nitrification and denitrification in our original samples or a new drought experiment to explain the microbial drivers of high and low N2O pulse regions.


Juliana Young
Biochemistry and Molecular and Cellular Biology double major
Junior at the University of Arizona

Manuscript evaluating a suite of flux-gradient methods for determining ecosystem H2 fluxes

A manuscript I’ve been working on entitled “Ecosystem fluxes of hydrogen: a comparison of flux-gradient methods,” was now been published in Atmospheric Measurement Techniques (view paper online). Our goal was to present a detailed experimental approach for measuring ecosystem fluxes of H2 and to test different so-called “flux-gradient methods” for calculating the H2 fluxes. Some common trace gas flux methods, e.g. eddy covariance, are not available for species like H2 that cannot be measured precisely at high frequencies (<1 Hz). We hope this paper will help inform the design of future studies for which flux-gradient methods might be the best option for measuring trace gas fluxes.

Here are a couple videos on the instrument deployment and design for more information.

H2 fluxes were measured at Harvard Forest, MA
H2 fluxes were measured at Harvard Forest, MA

Manuscript linking consumption of atmospheric H2 to the life cycle of soil-dwelling actinobacteria

The presence (left) or absence (right) of aerial hyphae in Streptomyces may influence their atmospheric H<sub>2</sub> consumption
The presence (left) or absence (right) of aerial hyphae in Streptomyces may be linked to atmospheric H2 consumption

Microbe-mediated soil uptake is the largest and most uncertain variable in the budget of atmospheric hydrogen (H2). In Meredith et al. (2014) in Environmental Microbiology Reports, we probe the advantage of atmospheric H2 consumption to microbes and relationship between environmental conditions, physiology of soil microbes, and H2First, we were interested in whether environmental isolates and culture collection strains with the genetic potential for atmospheric H2 uptake (a specific NiFe-hydrogenase gene) actually exhibit atmospheric H2 uptake. To expand the library of atmospheric H2-oxidizing bacteria, we quantify H2 uptake rates by novel Streptomyces soil isolates that contain the hhyL and by three previously isolated and sequenced strains of actinobacteria whose hhyL sequences span the known hhyL diversity. Second, we investigated how H2 uptake varies over organismal life cycle in one sporulating and one non-sporulating microorganism, Streptomyces sp. HFI8 and Rhodococcus equi, respectively. Our observations suggest that conditions favoring H2 uptake by actinobacteria are associated with energy and nutrient limitation. Thus, H2 may be an important energy source for soil microorganisms inhabiting systems in which nutrients are frequently limited.

Much of this work was done with the help of Deepa Rao, an undergraduate researcher at MIT at the time who wrote an award-winning senior thesis on the topic and presented results in a number of venues, including at AGU 2012.

 

Thesis Defense!

I defended my thesis entitled “Field Measurement of the Fate of Atmospheric H2 in a Forest Environment: from Canopy to Soil”.

I was honored to receive the 2012 Carl-Gustaf Rossby Prize for my thesis  (link to .pdf).

It was an incredible feeling to defend. I really enjoyed preparing and giving my thesis defense presentation. It’s not often that one gets to present the culmination of six years of hard work and personal development to colleagues, family, and friends. I am grateful for mentorship from my advisor Ron Prinn, my thesis committee (Steve Wofsy – Harvard, Bill Munger – Harvard, Tanja Bosak – MIT, Colleen Hansel – WHOI, Shuhei Ono – MIT), and many others along the way!

ISME conference on “the power of the small”

Last week I attended ISME 14 (International Symposium on Microbial Ecology) in Copenhagen, Denmark. It was a delight to see the city – its juxtaposed giant modern, cool, sterile buildings surrounding the historic old city. More of a delight was unexpectedly running into friends from the MBL Microbial Diversity summer school (2010) and realizing they are now my colleagues.

The conference itself was quite good. I appreciated the range of content from very big picture and abstract to focused experimental projects. One message I took away from the community was a sort of -omics backlash, or perhaps whiplash, to the idea that generating more and more -omics data is the sole future for microbial ecology. It seems that presenters coming from both the -omics and experimental side were acknowledging the importance of both tools, and especially of using them together. Those seem to be a lot of tools for any one scientist to master, so I am encouraged that the tone was of collaborative holistic approaches for tackling scientific questions.

Wind turbines and modern architecture outside of Copenhagen

I really enjoyed a somewhat unique session. It was a discussion entitled “Frontiers in microbial ecosystem science: Energizing the research agenda” sponsored at this and other conferences by the US National Science Foundation. All sorts of issues were raised in a discussion of “what needs to be done” – what are the important topics and how should we advance microbial ecology. I was struck by how strong the arguments were that microbial ecology is important for understanding, and possibly mitigating, climate change. This is my main interest, but I often find the microbial ecology literature and research interests so focused on minute points (I think my own project included), that it is difficult to see the link between the microbial and global scales. At this session I learned that it is not only because it is difficult to do, but also because the funding agencies seem to push scientists to write grants in one or the other. It is difficult to be interdisciplinary (falling under more than one NSF department). It has been a (fun) challenge for me to try to get a foot in both atmospheric and microbial ecology, and it was encouraging to hear from the community that the intersection of the two is valued.

Tuborg beer and the Royal Copenhagen porcelain company

I survived the AGU 2011 Fall meeting

I just returned to Boston after the six weeks of travelling. My two weeks in California, filled with conferences and colleagues, was quite different from the intensive and somewhat isolated period spent in India.

Presenting my poster at AGU – one of 12,000+ posters

First stop was San Diego, where I attended the 44th Meeting of Advanced Global  Atmospheric Gases Experiment (AGAGE) Scientists and Cooperating Networks at the Scripps Institute of Oceanography in La Jolla. Anita Ganesan’s instrument in Darjeeling may pave the way for the first AGAGE site in India, so the crowd was eager to hear her describe our success in deploying her instrument. Her dedicated and diligent work is paying off as she is collecting some of the first high precision direct greenhouse gas measurements in India.

I gave a talk at the AGAGE meeting on my recent work on the flux of H2, CO2 and COS between the soil and atmosphere at Harvard Forest. I focus on the persistence of soil-atmosphere exchange of trace gases across snowpack, which insulates the soil microbial community from freezing air temperatures while allowing trace gases  to diffuse through the porous snow matrix. I’m interested in how strongly the biogeochemical cycling continues throughout the winter and in comparing the behavior of the different cycles in the low temperature ‘incubator’ beneath the snow. Continue reading “I survived the AGU 2011 Fall meeting”

MBL microbial diversity course

Anabaena heterocyst and associated epibiont
Anabaena heterocyst and associated epibiont

In the summer of 2010, I spent six inspiring, challenging, and chaotic weeks at the Marine Biological Laboratory Microbial Diversity Course in Woods Hole, MA. I hoped to take full advantage of the opportunity granted by course directors Steve Zinder and Dan Buckley of Cornell to plunge head on into the world of microbiology. I was eager to learn the theory and hands-on methods to study the microbial world, which has such a profound impact on atmospheric composition, and this course gave me a chance to explore my interests in a way not offered anywhere else. Continue reading “MBL microbial diversity course”