The Role of Microbes in the Tropical Rainforest

The Role of Microbes in the Tropical Rainforest

Have you ever wondered how a Tropical Rainforest can sustain itself, without fertilizers and maintenance from Humans? Well, the organic layer, in which the trees are rooting, is in most cases just 30 to 50 cm thick on average and because the sub-soil frequently consists of Rock, Clay Mineral (Kaoline) or a layer not suitable for rooting, the roots, except for crevices,  are mainly growing horizontally. The trees are depending on its others support. Still, the full-grown rainforest does not need the help of Humans. Humans are doing harm to the rainforest, most of the time, due to poor knowledge of the processes, which are taking place above and more so below the soil. The Amazon forest is according to some scientist 110 million years old, while others estimate it to exist 450 million years. The 110 million would coincide with the time the American continents drifted to the west until it bumped into the Pacific Plate forming the Andes Mountains/Rocky Mountains. See: 180 million years ago the supercontinent Pangea began to break up into two continents, Laurasia and Gondwanaland, at At the same time, the Atlantic Ocean was formed. I believe the 110 -150 million is about right, although some flora and fauna compare with that of Africa and Europe for that matter.

amplified view of a nodule
An amplification of a nodule, showing the various chambers and the activities, which are taking place
Mycorrhiza, fungi in the root zone

The rainforest depends on processes in symbiosis with microbes, like Mycorrhizae (root fungi) and Rhizobacteria (root bacteria), which are predominantly endophytic (living in the host). Among the heterogeneous tree population, are species belonging to the Leguminosae, a major group of plant genera. These plants are of the utmost importance, due to the major need for Nitrogen, which they acquire out of the air in gaseous form (N2). The absorption of Carbon Dioxide (CO2) from the air and the Nitrogen are, with the help of the microbes converted into nutrients for the forest, while releasing Oxygen in the air. The air consists of 78% Nitrogen (N2) and 21% Oxygen (O2). The others are various gases of which Carbon dioxide (CO2) forms the majority. Here comes the symbiosis with fungi and bacteria. The trees, forming nodules in their rooting systems, secrete flavonoids to attract bacteria. Most of the bacteria live inside those nodules and convert the Nitrogen gas into compounds, which are readily available for uptake by the roots, such as Nitrates (NO3), Nitrites (NO2) and Ammonia (NH3). The trees are pumping these converted compounds in the soil for the benefit of all plant life, including the fungi. The processes in the forest also depend on some macro-organisms; to decompose large trunks and other dropped phytomass. To name a few, beetles, caterpillars, larvae, birds etc. Microbes also assist these macro-organisms to digest the cellulose.

The fungi are transporting nutrients through the tree and between the trees so even those, not exposed to the sun, can benefit from the nutrients obtained through Photosynthesis by others. They are also forming shields around the hair roots, to keep them moist and aid in the absorption of nutrients. They further improve the soils keeping the aggregates together and forming bridges. This functions as absorption complexes to regulate the Air and Water Household in the rooting zone and protect against erosion. It is amazing the cooperation between all the species. Fungi and bacteria, producing more nutrients for the trees, decomposing the leaves and branches, which fall on the forest floor. At given times certain genera of fungi, belonging to the Basidiomycetes, produce recognizable fruiting bodies like Mushrooms, small and large, which are popping out of the ground or growing on the lower trunks. The start of new growth without sufficient microbes results in a very dense vegetation with a few species and poor growth for many years.

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