The role of multiple global change factors in driving soil functions and microbial biodiversity

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Science  15 Nov 2019:
Vol. 366, Issue 6467, pp. 886-890
DOI: 10.1126/science.aay2832

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Many factors influence global change

Global environmental change is driven by multiple natural and anthropogenic factors. With a focus on global change as it affects soils, Rillig et al. point out that nearly all published studies consider just one or two factors at a time (see the Perspective by Manning). In a laboratory experiment, they tested 10 drivers of global change both individually and in combination, at levels ranging from 2 to 10 factors. They found that soil properties, processes, and microbial communities could not be predicted from single-effect responses and that multiple factors in combination produced unsuspected responses. They concluded that single-factor studies remain important for uncovering mechanisms but that global change biology needs to embrace more fully the multitude of drivers impinging on ecosystems.

Science, this issue p. 886; see also p. 801


Soils underpin terrestrial ecosystem functions, but they face numerous anthropogenic pressures. Despite their crucial ecological role, we know little about how soils react to more than two environmental factors at a time. Here, we show experimentally that increasing the number of simultaneous global change factors (up to 10) caused increasing directional changes in soil properties, soil processes, and microbial communities, though there was greater uncertainty in predicting the magnitude of change. Our study provides a blueprint for addressing multifactor change with an efficient, broadly applicable experimental design for studying the impacts of global environmental change.

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