Health, Engineering and Science
School of Natural Sciences
Arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi (AMF), symbionts with most terrestrial plants, produce glomalin-related soil protein (GRSP), which plays a major role in soil structure and quality. Both fungi hyphae and protein production in soils are affected by perturbations related to land-use changes, implying that GRSP is a sensitive indicator of soil quality. Unfortunately, GRSP degrades within years to decades in oxic environments, preventing its use as palaeoecological proxy. However, GRSP is transported to marine, near-shore anoxic sediments, where it accumulates and remains non-degraded, enabling the assessment of its potential as a palaeoecological proxy for soil ecosystem's health. Exploiting this fact, we have obtained for the first time a long-term record (c. 1250. years) of GRSP content using a Posidonia oceanica seagrass mat sediment core from the Western Mediterranean (Portlligat Bay, Spain). The trends in GRSP content matched well with land-use changes related to agrarian activities reconstructed by pollen analysis. In periods of cultivation, GRSP accumulation in the mat decreased. Given the role played by GRSP, the results suggest that agrarian intensification may have resulted in perturbations to soil quality. Thus, GRSP in seagrass mat sediments can be used to assess long-term trends in continental soil quality induced by human activities. These findings open new possibilities in long-term ecology research, as other anoxic environments could be potentially valid too. Testing them would open the possibility to identify long-term patterns in soil quality and other environmental stressors that could also affect AMF and GRSP production in soils.
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