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Garden Allies: Soil Microorganisms

Articles: Garden Allies: Soil Microorganisms

Sporangia of a slime mold (Stemonitis sp.) that grows on dead leaves and wood. Illus: Craig Latker

Soil Microbes: Life Beneath Our Feet

The air into which plants extend their stems, leaves, flowers, and fruits is a virtual desert compared to the soil in which their roots seek anchorage, water, and nourishment. Just about every available surface under our feet is covered with life; even the thin film of water that coats soil particles and lines pores in the soil harbors microscopic organisms that swim in those minute spaces. Without living organisms, soil would be merely crushed rock. It is the interactions between microorganisms and mineral components, fueled by sunlight and chemical reactions, that break down rock and gradually convert it into soil. The number of organisms found in soil boggles the imagination: a mere gram may contain a billion bacteria and 200 meters of fungal hyphae!

Charles Darwin, well known for his theory of evolution by natural selection, is also recognized as the founder of soil ecology; but it was Louis Pasteur who first demonstrated that organic material was dec...


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