Context

Climate change exerts substantial pressure on Earth’s biodiversity and the multitude of ecosystems services it provides. This is particularly problematic for agroecosystems, where the accelerated pace of climate change combined with unsustainable land use directly threatens global food production. Political actions such as the Sustainable Development Goals and the Aichi Biodiversity Targets that aim at quantifying and mitigating the impact of climate change and unsustainable management on biodiversity are not on track to be achieved in the near future. One way to assist in achieving these goals is to harness microbial functions, i.e. those that are enhancing crop growth, nutrient use efficiency, abiotic stress resilience, disease resistance, and greenhouse gas mitigation, into agricultural production, while progressively decreasing the amount of chemical external inputs such a fertilizers and pesticides. The extent to which climate change affects the crop-associated microbiome and its functions is unclear and remains underrepresented in ongoing debates about climate change, global biodiversity loss and conservation policy.

Vision

MICROSERVICES will use a multi-domain approach to assess the impact of climate change on the crop-soil-microbiome nexus under various agricultural management regimes, with the aim to increase our capacity to predict and mitigate future climate change impacts on soil biodiversity and its cascading effects on agroecosystem functioning. Such knowledge will be key to develop a sustainable and climate-resilient agriculture.

Main activities

Shifts in soil microbial diversity, crop-microbiome interactions, and ecosystem multifunctionality across different agricultural management regimes will be assessed along natural European climate gradients with forecasted climate progressions into the future as well as using an in-situ field-scale drought simulation experiment. In the first part, regional climate models informed by Earth Observation data will identify specific ecoregions within the Atlantic, Continental, and Mediterranean biogeographic zones to create gradients of forecasted climate progressions. Wheat cropping sites along these climate gradients and across different conventional and conservational management regimes will be identified and sampled in collaboration with stakeholders from the EU agricultural value chain. In the second part, effects of drought will be simulated using rain-out shelters installed in one of the world’s longest running agricultural field experiment comparing different conventional and organic farming systems since 1978, the DOK trial in Switzerland. The multi-level responses of the crop-soil-microbiome nexus will be assessed by harnessing ground-breaking methods from different scientific disciplines that range from metagenomic assessments and isotope labelling techniques to the implementation of Earth Observation tools and machine learning algorithms. Results will be made operative and accessible for stakeholders and policymakers through a communication and dissemination plan operating at the national and European level.

Objectives

Carried by an international consortium of experts across different disciplines, MICROSERVICES will i) provide scientific insights into future impacts of climate change on the crop microbiome and associated ecosystem services, ii) promote political and public awareness of the importance of microbial diversity for sustainable agriculture, and iii) establish interactions between research institutions, agricultural stakeholders and policymakers to influence policy agendas at the national and European level.