Congratulations to Ben Connor for coming in 2nd place in the BABSOCs microjournalism competition with “The Small Things in (Soil) Life”! 🌱
Up to 5-21% of the carbon a plant fixes by photosynthesis is secreted into the soil by its roots. […] These secretions are called exudates, and can be composed of amino acids, organic acids, sugars, proteins, and other organic compounds. Exudates make the soil surrounding the roots (known as the rhizosphere) more beneficial for the plant in several ways: they can repel pathogens, modify the physical and chemical properties of the soil, and feed bacteria and fungi that form symbiotic relationships with the plant. Exudates can even be used as signaling compounds for plants and microbes to communicate.
In a healthy soil, all of a plant’s nutritional needs can be met with the help of these microbes. Why then, do we need to use fertilisers to grow our food?
A big factor is the decline of the microbial communities in our soils. Western agricultural practices like repetitive ploughing kills microbes by exposing them to the air and UV radiation from the sun, as well as decreasing soil carbon content, which is important for sustaining soil life. Bactericides and fungicides used against pathogens can also kill beneficial microbes. When inorganic fertilisers are used, populations of many beneficial microbes are further reduced, increasing the dependance on the fertilisers.
Without the strong community of microbes in the rhizosphere, it’s harder to balance the nutritional needs of a crop perfectly, so nutritional deficiencies and decreased resistance to pests and diseases are almost unavoidable. 👩🏼🌾
Thinking back to the exudates, if plants spend so much of their precious energy to improve the soil, it must be really important for them. If we want to help plants flourish, it might be better to work with them, not against them, to help improve the soil community they live in. Do we underestimate soil?
To read the full journal entry visit babsoc.com (link in the bio)
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