Alpine Microbial Observatory
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About the Program

Research at the Alpine Microbial Observatory (AMO) is focused on studying the seasonal dynamics of soil microorganisms across an extreme environmental gradient ranging from montane forests (2800 meters el.) up to alpine tundra and barren talus slopes (4000 meters el.). These sites represent globally important plant biomes, all of which are covered with snow for part of the year. We are especially interested in the snow-covered period because 35% of Earth's land surface is covered with snow for varying lengths of time each year and research at the AMO has shown that novel soil microorganisms are active under snow where they contribute significantly to gas fluxes and nitrogen pulses to the environment.

With our most recent grant from Microbial Observatories Program at NSF (MCB-0455606) we will continue to study the function and diversity of microbes in the alpine and begin attempts to culture some of the novel under-snow microbes so that they can be studied using modern physiological and genomic methods. We will also implement an interactive, Internet database to explore the relationships between phylogenetics, distribution and functioning of novel microbes in alpine environments.

At the global scale, research at the AMO will help us to understand how colder regions of the earth function as part of the biosphere and how they will respond to future climate change. Such work can only be accomplished via interdisciplinary research, involving researchers with expertise in microbiology (Schmidt Lab), evolutionary biology (Martin Lab), biogeochemistry (Neff Lab), and bioinformatics (Guralnick lab). The development of a web-based public access system expands the educational and out-reach value of the research and will allow scientists and the public to use the knowledge generated at the AMO. This research also will promote training through its support of undergraduate students, graduate students and post-doctoral fellows.


June 10, 2003, wet meadow and spruce soil sampling.