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Prairie microbes could aid region's restoration

The contrast between prairie and farmland doesn’t stop at dirt. It's in the ecosystems' soil microbes as well.

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Guest post by Gabriel Popkin

Diverse tallgrass prairies once covered about 10 percent of the United States, but farming and grazing have reduced the habitats to a handful of small remnants.

Scientists studied the genes of bacterial communities living in some of those prairie remnants and discovered that the grassy areas have far more Verrucomicrobia, a little studied group of bacteria, than agricultural soils do. These bacteria are experts in breaking down complex carbon-containing structures such as the roots of prairie plants.

The finding, which appears in the Nov. 1 Science, could assist thousands of prairie restoration projects throughout the Midwest. 

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