The aim of the research is to answer the long-standing question: How are land use and climatic changes affecting soil fertility and the amount of carbon we can store in soil? The answer to this critical question lies in microbial adaptation to the challenging soil environment – the central hypothesis of this project.

The research project is called “Soil microbial responses to land use and climatic changes in the light of evolution” (SMILE) and will seek to improve the way we describe soil processes.

Soil microorganisms are responsible for a large fraction of greenhouse gas emissions from terrestrial ecosystems and produce most of the nutrients needed by plants to grow. They perform these important functions by decomposing organic matter, which is not easy for them to access in soil and is often not nutritionally balanced. This raises the question: How can microbes do that?

Stefano Manzoni
Stefano Manzoni

“In my project, I hypothesize that soil microbes are such effective drivers of carbon and nutrient cycles because they have evolved to face the challenges of life in soil. In other words, they behave in the best possible way to guarantee their survival and reproduction, given the difficult conditions they experience in soil”, says Stefano Manzoni.

He will integrate this idea into new mathematical models of carbon and nutrient cycling in which microbes are well-adapted to their environment.

“This project is just the first step towards a deeper integration of ecological and biogeochemical theories. My new theories will translate the outcomes of evolution into reliable predictions well beyond the scope of this project, for example, for designing climate-adapted forests and more efficient and productive agricultural systems.”

More information about ERC Consolidator Grant 2020.

More information about Stefanos research