Researchers have sounded alarm bells over the loss of microbes helping preserve the Amazon ecosystem following its systematic deforestation.
"We found that after rainforest conversion to agricultural pastures, bacterial communities were significantly different from those of forest soils," said Klaus Nusslein from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, an expert in tropical rain forest microbial soil communities, who led the microbiologists.
Nusslein and colleagues studied a large farm site over the past four years at the frontier where farmers drive agriculture into pristine rainforest in Rondonia, Brazil, to convert rainforest to agricultural use, the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences reports.
As Nusslein and colleagues point out, the Amazon represents half of the world's rainforest and is home to one-third of earth's species, yet the Amazon has one of the highest rates of deforestation, according to a Massachusetts statement.
"Agriculture is one of the largest and most dynamic parts of Brazil's economy. So dealing with standing rainforests in the tropics will be tricky, but nevertheless, it is vital that the issue is tackled," they add.
The findings in part validated previous research showing that soil bugs became more diverse after conversion to pasture.
However, in its fourth year, their study overcame limitations of earlier investigations to show that changes in microbial diversity occurred over larger geographic scales.
Biologist and first study author Jorge Rodrigues of the University of Texas in Arlington adds: "We have known for a long time that conversion of rainforest land in the Amazon for agriculture results in a loss of biodiversity in plants and animals. Now we know that microbial communities which are so important to the ecosystem also suffer significant losses."
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