Microbial Analysis As a Tool for Second Responders

2017 Will Be Remembered as a Year of Disaster

The year of 2017 will no doubt be remembered for its stream of natural disasters.   From the fires in Montana to the hurricanes that struck Houston and Puerto Rico…from the earthquakes in Mexico City to the floods in Peru…we are most cognizant of the disasters striking our hemisphere.  Yet we are only one half of a globe that has been devastated by nature this year.  A recent slideshow from US News and World Report highlights ten disasters that have already made 2017 a year like no other.

Contrasting First and Second Responders.

No photograph can capture the trauma of a natural disaster.  When natures fury strikes homes and injures loved ones, even the most hardened hearts are moved to action. Some of us send cash.  Others donate food and clothing.  Those who are capable of doing so launch on-the-ground rescue missions.  These are our first responders.  They are heros.  They save lives.

Yet after the storm ends, the flood water drains, and the rescue workers go home, survivors must rebuild their lives.  While the media moves on to capture new drama elsewhere, a new effort must begin.  Healing and reconstruction is the work of second responders.   Second responders may include aid workers, business owners, volunteers, or even victims themselves.  Some second responders were there all along, lending support to the rescue workers.  Others enter the picture later, arriving to repair or rebuild homes.  Second responders may provide grief counseling, medical, or physical therapies that help the injured heal.  Second responders help survivors relocate and, where necessary, establish new livelihoods.  Second responders also repair the land.

Plants and Microbes as Ultimate Second Responders

Plants and the microbes that support their growth are key to environmental restoration.

 

Restoring land that has been damaged by natural disasters also falls under the umbrella of second responders.  First responders might intervene to halt the spread of toxic wastes released from damaged containment areas.  Even when first responders may be called to clean up the most acutely toxic portions of such spills, it is the second responders who engage in the long term cleanup and restoration.  Soils ranging from city parks and urban landscapes to collapsed mine sites and flooded sewage treatment plants must have wastes removed.  Often, vegetation must be restored.  Physical and mechanical interventions can be important for initial treatment efforts, but in the end, plants and microbes will be responsible for healing the land.  Plants capture energy and produce organic carbon that feeds the microbes.  Microbes catalyze biochemical reactions that mobilize nutrients and enhance stress resistance for plants, and for the ecosystem as a whole. Plants and microbes each work to detoxify environmental wastes and restore ecosystem services that produce clean air, clean water, and functional soil.

Microbial Analysis for Second Responders

Increasing microbial biodiversity can make the most challenging revegetation efforts successful.  Soils restored and maintained with rich vegetation and functional microbial food webs also help mitigate the impact of future disasters.  They accomplish this by making the land itself more resilient–more capable of absorbing excess water, and of maintaining its structure in the face of harsh wind and rain.

As we look at the global picture, microbially enhanced soils serve an even bigger purpose.  The soils were we grow our food, surround our homes, build our parks and golf courses, and border our highways were once soils that teamed with microbes.  These microbes worked with plant communities to clean air and water, remove wastes, and maintain healthy ecosystems.   As concrete replaced soils, industrial chemicals overwhelmed our ecosystems, and pesticides and synthetic nutrients replaced the microbial food webs that maintained our farmlands, our gardens, and our urban landscapes, the food webs our soils supported were  less able to function.  True, these soils still team with microbes.  But critical diversity has been lost, and performance has suffered.

Regardless of whether the reader accepts recent natural disasters as evidence of climate change, geoengineering gone mad, or the wrath of God seeking vengeance on a sinful world, it is difficult to watch the recent stream of events without wondering what will strike next, and how we can reverse the ominous trend of natural disasters.

Microbial restoration ranks among the most promising interventions for reversing the impact of more frequent storms. The American Society of Microbiology’s 2017 special report discusses the potential of microbes to mitigate those environmental changes which have been caused by human actions.

Because microbes have such tremendous potential to restore ecosystems, we view microbial analysis that guides growers in plant and microbial restoration (aka: bioremediation) as a tool for second responders.   Restoration efforts that harness microbial biodiversity to enhance plant growth and soil restoration are often the most economically feasible and the most enduring interventions available.

Microbial Analysis For Growers Proceeds to Aid Restoration Efforts

As we commend all who have responded to disasters around the world, we seek to do our own part by 1) increasing awareness of the restoration benefits microbial food webs offer, and 2) donating 25% of the proceeds earned from our Microbial Analysis for Growers enrollments in October, 2017 to hurricane restoration efforts.  The principles of microbial monitoring, and the principles for restoring diversity and abundance which are taught in this course can guide vegetation restoration for any kind of landscape.  The hosting platform allows questions and interactions that can help me, as an instructor, target content to your restoration applications.

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