ESM 2022 poster: Patterns of bacterial-fungal co-occurrence in European beech (Fagus sylvatica L.) deadwood

For those that were not able to attend the Ecology of Soil Microorganisms 2022 conference (which ran from 19-23 July in Prague, Czech Republic) I got permission to upload the poster which I presented. Being a scientist can also mean doing a bit of public speaking and graphic design. Below, you will find the abstract and poster.

Patterns of bacterial-fungal co-occurrence in European beech (Fagus sylvatica L.) deadwood

Jason Bosch, Ema Némethová, Vojtěch Tláskal, Vendula Brabcová, Petr Baldrian

Deadwood represents an important nutrient source and microbial habitat in forest ecosystems. Its decomposition is one of the key processes of global carbon turnover considering that European natural forests can contain up to 1200 m3 of deadwood per hectare. This deadwood is primarily decomposed by saprotrophic fungi but bacteria also have a role to play, particularly in the provision of nitrogen. Previous work has shown that the first fungi to become established will physically prevent further colonisation by other fungi. As bacteria and fungi can interact in both synergistic and antagonistic ways, we expect that these fungal zones of control will also influence the bacterial community composition at local scales.

We investigated the patterns of microbial diversity and co-occurrence in 1 cm3 blocks of European beech (Fagus sylvatica L.) deadwood collected from the Žofínský prales National Nature Reserve in the Czech Republic, using 16S and ITS amplicon sequencing. Compared to previously-collected “whole log” communities, the small-scale communities showed less diversity both individually and in combination. By correlating fungal and bacterial species, we were able to expand on previous work which showed that fungi influence bacterial community composition. As small-scale microbial communities collected from the same log can differ dramatically from one another, we advise caution when interpreting “whole log” microbial community data as the results may not reflect the actual interactions which take place in the deadwood.

If you would like to cite the poster, you can use the abstract book citation:

Piché Choquette S., Slaninová Kyselková M., Pospíšek M., Baldrian P. (Eds.), 2022. Ecology of Soil Microorganisms – Book of Abstracts, Prague, June 19 – 23, 2022.

Updating my blogroll

The blogroll is on the main page of my blog and links to various other sites that I consider worth reading. The sites which were on there were from many years ago and included several which I no longer read. When I noticed that, I saw that it was time to update it. Here’s a new list of blogs which are worth reading. Go check them out.

Animal Emotions

Animal Emotions is written by Marc Bekoff, Professor Emeritus of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Colorado, Boulder, United States and co-founder of the Jane Goodall Institute of Ethologists for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (ethology being the study of animal behaviour). The blog deals with various aspects of animal behaviour, welfare and ethics.

The Bowman Lab

This is the blog for the laboratory of Jeff Bowman from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in the US. This is a blog that I started following more recently to get a wider view of microbial ecology. The Bowman lab works on different aspects of microbial ecology with many posts focussing on analytical tools as well as marine and polar microbial ecology.

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Science is universal

I’ve seen some rather disturbing reports recently that New Zealand is aiming to insert indigenous Mātauranga Māori beliefs into science classes. While there are, no doubt, many important bits of knowledge, there are also many superstitions such as the belief that “Rain happens when the goddess Papatuanuku sheds tears.” This is hardly the first time that unscientific, indigenous knowledge has been pushed in this way nor the first time that science has been, incorrectly, criticised as Western, white or European. In 2016, an infamous video did the rounds, showing a “ScienceMustFall” student at the University of Cape Town claiming that some people could use witchcraft to strike others with lightning. Mythical origin stories which claim that certain groups have always caused problems for those studying human migration in both North America and Australia. Many of these criticisms appear to be rooted in the negative way these communities have historically been treated. What becomes frustrating is that there are many legitimate concerns in those criticisms but the push-back becomes an over-correction which now demands an equal place for unscientific mythology which does not belong in a science classroom.

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Photos: New plants in the burned field

This is a short follow up to my previous post on the role of fire in the environment. I went back to the field about a month after the previous visit and after some good rainfall. While there had previously been only grasses where the field was burned, during this latest visit I saw a large variety of different plants had emerged.

This is how the unburned parts of the field looked during the latest visit. While there were a few sections of green growth, the majority was still yellow, dry and dead.

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Ecology, fire and the phoenix

A recent newsletter from the Endangered Wildlife Trust mentioned a planned burn to help save the habitat of the rough moss frog. What I found interesting about the story, is that it is using fire to help preserve a part of the environment. I think that when many people think about fire, they think it’s negative or destructive, like the recent fire that damaged the Jagger Reading Room at UCT, among other places, or the fire which destroyed the roof and spires of Notre Dame cathedral. Happily, repair work is about to start. However, fire can actually be a good thing and is necessary for the healthy functioning of many environments.

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Field trip to the Namib Desert – April 2021

The Namib Sand Sea

The Centre for Microbial Ecology and Genomics, where I currently work, has an annual trip to the Namib Desert for sampling purposes and, while it didn’t happen last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, I was part of this year’s team. It was my first visit to both Namibia and the Namib Desert as well as my first field work since my SANBI internship many years ago.

Gobabeb and the Namib Desert

After flying in and spending one night in Walvis Bay, we were based at Gobabeb-Namib Research Station. It’s small research institution which has been running for several decades and hosts visitors from all over the world who wish to study the desert and its organisms. I found the accommodation there to be comfortable, the food tasty (and plentiful) and the staff very friendly. The only negative was the lack of a decent internet connection, meaning that I essentially spent my time there off the grid.

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A poorly-designed graph confuses Business Insider South Africa

It seems like I’m not done criticising poor reporting from South African news sites yet. We had City Press irresponsibly promoting psychics, News24 writing a headline that got almost everything wrong and, now, Business Insider fails to understand numbers and get mislead by a poorly-designed graph. I would’ve thought a business-focussed publication would understand numbers and graphs but, not for the first time, I have been disappointed.

The graph below was produced by Stats SA and reproduced in a Business Insider article about the Rand turning 60. It shows how the price of various goods have increased since 1961. However, the graph is confusing and could easily mislead people. Take a look now and see if you can spot the problem. [Edit (16/02/2021): The BI article has been updated and both the graph and statement have been removed.]

The absolute increase in price of various items. (Source: Stats SA)
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Poorly-written headline on News24 gets almost everything wrong

According to the headline of a recent article on News24, “Regular cannabis use puts young people at higher risk for self-harm and death, a new study finds.

No! That headline is extremely misleading. The article includes a link to the study (which is very good practice) but, unfortunately, I only have access to the abstract (a short summary of the research). However, even with just that we can see several problems immediately.

“Regular cannabis use…”

It was not just regular cannabis use, the study was looking at cannabis use disorder. Cannabis use disorder is diagnosed by a person presenting two or more of a whole list of symptoms. These includes things such as “There is a persistent desire or unsuccessful efforts to cut down or control cannabis use,” “Important social, occupational or recreational activities are given up or reduced because of cannabis use” and “Recurrent cannabis use in situations in which it is physically hazardous.” In fact, “regular use” itself is not a diagnostic criterion at all.

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