Ainara Leizeaga

Ainara Leizeaga

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Soil moisture is one of the most powerful factors that regulate microbial activity in soil. It is also a factor that is inherently variable. The top layers of soils in all environments are exposed to cycles of drying and rewetting due to the interaction between precipitation, temperature changes and evapotranspiration. It is well known that that these cycles induce enormous dynamics in soil biogeochemistry; however, the microbial underpinnings are still mostly unknown.

Drying-rewetting events are common globally. One third of the earth is covered by arid, semi-arid, or seasonally arid ecosystems. In addition, due to climate change, terrestrial ecosystems are predicted to be exposed to more extreme fluctuations in precipitation, that is more intense drought and rainfall events. Those extreme events can affect soil carbon cycling, and thus, it is important to understand and determinate how soil microbes respond to the intensification of the hydrologic cycle, and how this affects their ability to process soil carbon.

The aim of my PhD is to understand how soil microbial communities, and the processed they regulate are affected by the fluctuation of water availability. This will help us understand how those fluctuations affect carbon cycling and ecosystem functioning. I want to find out how these drought and rainfall events affect bacterial and fungal growth, as well as respiration; and the consequences that these have in ecosystem processes and functions. Moreover, I would like to understand how soil microbes respond to water availability cycles across climate gradients, as well as other environmental factor gradients (e.g. pH, SOM, …). In addition, I would also like to understand which are the mechanisms underlying the response of soil microbes to drying and rewetting events.

To achieve my goals of understanding how microbial communities regulate biogeochemistry, methods that can assess microbial growth rates at high temporal resolution are required. My tools therefore include radioisotope tracer based methods to measure bacterial and fungal growth, combined with stable isotope methods to resolve the fate of SOM into CO2 and biomass, along with high resolution methods to measure soil C and N turnover. To do so, I will work with soils from different regions, using both microcosm and field-scale experiments.


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