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Ridge-to-reef Microbial Census Published in PNAS!

Updated: Oct 14, 2022

The keys to saving endangered species and improving the ecology of our communities may be found in thousands of microbiomes and microbes examined by researchers from the ocean to the summit of the Waimea Valley watershed on Oʻahu.

Our team of researchers conducted a monumental field expedition by sampling more than 3,000 microbes and microbiomes from the ocean of Waimea Bay to the deepest part of Waimea Valley. The investigation revealed three key discoveries: microbes follow the food web, most of the microbial diversity in a watershed is maintained within the soil and stream water and the local distribution of a microbe predicts how it is distributed globally. These findings were published recently in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science.

The research team conducted a microbiome “bioblitz”—a near complete census of all environmental substrates and possible hosts to microbes within the watershed. They took more than 3,000 samples from the wet summit of Puʻu Kainapuaʻa, the low floodplain of Waimea Valley and even the clear waters of Waimea Bay. We gathered samples from soil; stream and sea water; animals, including rats, crayfish, mosquitoes and sea urchins; and plants, including trees, ferns and algae; and much more.

“Understanding sources of shared microbial diversity in ecosystems allows us to better understand the origins and assembly processes of symbiotic microbes and their role in preserving biodiversity and ecosystem services,” said Anthony Amend, lead author of the study and associate professor in Pacific Biosciences Research Center (PBRC). “If we want to restore native plants and animals to an area, we may need to think about restoring the source environments for their microbiomes as well. Microbes are yet another way that organisms are connected to the environment.”

This work shines light on the diversity and distribution of microbiomes at a landscape scale, an approach made possible by the unique structure and habitat diversity of Hawaiian watersheds.

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