The Belowground Ecosystem Group

Belowground ecology is recognized as one of the most critical and rapidly developing fields of ecology because it is still poorly understood. However, belowground ecology is vital to questions regarding the impacts of climate change, carbon sequestration, biodiversity, and sustainable management of forests and other ecosystems.

The Belowground Ecosystem Group was established in 2004 in the Department of Forest and Convservation Sciences in the Faculty of Forestry at UBC. The Group works together and also collaborates with scientists from other units on campus, and other institutions across Canada.

The primary goal of the Group is to conduct interdisciplinary collaborative research towards the scientific goal of linking structure and function in belowground ecosystems. This goal is achievable with the rapid pace of development of new molecular and stable isotope techniques that give us new insights into the structure of soil microbial and faunal communities, and how these relate to the soil processes that are fundamental to the functioning of terrestrial ecosystems.

Why study belowground ecology?

“Understanding the dynamics of microbial communities is at the heart of contemporary microbial ecology and understanding of the soil microbial community is probably the most challenging because of the exceptionally high microbial diversity in soil and the complex and variable matrix in which soil microbes are embedded. Nonetheless it is time to open the soil black box….. The rate of discovery of new knowledge using molecular techniques is growing rapidly and the rate is expected to continue to increase because of the further improvement of methods particularly tuned for environmental work and the extent of the unknown character of the soil community. Soil microbiology is truly the frontier of biology”. Tiedje et al. 1999. Applied Soil Ecology 13: 109-122

“If I could do it all over again, and relive my vision in the twenty-first century, I would be a microbial ecologist…Into that world I would go with the aid of modern microscopy and molecular analysis. I would cut my way through clonal forests sprawled across grains of sand, travel in an imagined submarine through drops of water proportionately the size of lakes, and track predators and prey in order to discover new life ways and alien food webs.” E.O. Wilson, “Naturalist” (his autobiography)