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What eDNA is Telling Us About the Health of Our Woodlands

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Healthy Environments

In October 2020 we asked the question, “Does action to protect our eucalypt woodlands have any impact on the diversity of soil bacteria and mychorrizal fungi and can it be an indicator of woodland health?”. This question formed the basis of our woodland Environmental DNA (eDNA) program in partnership with soil experts, Bioscience.

The aim of the partnership is to determine if management interventions have any impact on the diversity of soil bacteria and mychorrizal fungi. These are known to be essential for the long-term health of woodland ecosystems.

The story so far

In spring 2020, we took several samples from a wide range of soil types with variable properties. From these samples we have successfully established a baseline of soil fertility, bacteria and Arbuscular Mycorrhizal Fungi (AMF) communities.

What the early eDNA has to say

Early results tell us that samples from both farm and reserve vegetation demonstrate a significant range of microbial diversity. They show that the soils within vegetation on selected farm sites have similar bacterial diversity compared to soils within reserved areas. Patterns of community structure are strongly related to salinity and pH levels in the soil.

While AMF are present in both farm and reserved remnants, the environmental drivers of distribution are still unknown at this stage.

Where to from here?

Repeat sampling of these sites is scheduled for 2022. While this repeat testing may indicate that woodland management initiatives are on the pathway to having an impact on the microbial diversity of farm remnants, it is more likely that this will be seen over a longer time period.

The use of eDNA for this purpose is cutting edge. It has the capacity to challenge long-held beliefs about the relationship between woodland health and soil microbes. It can also help us formulate a plan on how to best manage these threatened ecological communities into the future.

The woodland project is supported through funding from the Australian Government’s National Landcare Program. Read more about our Where The Wild Things Are project here

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