Microbial Biodiversity in Tropical Rainforests

Microbial Biodiversity in Tropical Rainforests

One of the initial pilot projects funded by the Gabon-Oregon Center is a study of microbial biodiversity in Gabonese rainforests. It is an often-overlooked component of many aspects of environmental resource management, health, and development. For example, in tropical settings such as Gabon, conversion of tropical forest to agriculture affects the diversity of flora and fauna and may lead to a reduction in soil fertility.

In Fall 2013, UO Professor Brendan Bohannan, Gabonese scientist Dr. Patricks Voua Otomo, UO Biology graduate student Kyle Meyer and their team collected soil samples in areas with primary forests and areas subject to deforestation to examine the effects of deforestation on soil microbial communities. They studied the impact of deforestation on the biodiversity of bacteria, archaea, and fungi, to determine how deforestation modifies the composition of soil microbial communities as well as the relative abundance of ecologically important groups such as Acidobacteria, Thaumarchaeota and Mycorrhiza.

The research took place in the Protected Area complex in Gamba, including the Rabi site (forested research plot), Moukalaba-Doudou National Park, Loango National Park and the neighboring industrial areas. This region was chosen because it contains areas with primary forests as well as areas with human disturbance. The team worked with the Smithsonian Biodiversity Research Station in Gamba, drawing particularly on samples from their Rabi plot, to examine soil biodiversity and assess impacts from human activities. They are also working closely with Dr. Patricks Voua Otomo, a researcher from Gabon studying soils and worms who spent a few months in Oregon in Spring 2014 to assist with the analysis of samples in the UO team's lab.

This project will provide information to the Government of Gabon and local scientists, decision-makers and community leaders in order to make informed decisions regarding land use and deforestation in the country. The study directly promotes the Gabon-Oregon Center’s mission to address environmental concerns and help the country preserve its abundant natural resources through informed decision-making. The team expects a joint Gabonese/American publication from this work in the near future.