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Soil microbiome unaffected by National Mall turf restoration

"We thought that the new 'imported' turf from New Jersey would introduce different communities of bacteria to the National Mall," researcher Jo Anne Crouch said.

By Brooks Hays
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Soil microbiome unaffected by National Mall turf restoration
The Lincoln Memorial is in the background as grass grows along the National Mall in Washington, DC on August 16, 2017. The National Park Service has spent more than $40 million to keep the grass green on the National Mall. Photo by Pat Benic/UPI | License Photo

Aug. 16 (UPI) -- New research suggests the soil microbiome on the National Mall was mostly unaltered by the recent multiyear turf restoration project.

Last year, the final stages of the equivalent of a massive skin graft were completed on the National Mall.

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By the end of the last decade, the nation's most famous grass corridor -- sandwiched by Smithsonian museums and bookended by the U.S. Capitol and the Washington Monument -- was in decay. It was too late for traditional lawn care methods. A full restoration was in order and dying turf was removed on a section-by-section basis. The soil was reengineered and fresh, healthy sod was shipped in from New Jersey.

The years-long effort offered scientists with the USDA's Agriculture Research Service a chance to study microbial communities in National Mall's soil.

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"We thought that the new 'imported' turf from New Jersey would introduce different communities of bacteria to the National Mall," researcher Jo Anne Crouch said in a news release. "However, we found that they weren't significantly different."

Crouch and her colleagues are keen on understanding the role of microbial communities in dictating turf health. A growing body of research suggests a dynamic and diverse gut microbiome is essential to human health. And dozens of studies have linked disruptions to microbial communities in the digestive tract to various health maladies. Researchers believe soil microbes are similarly important to plant health.

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"Microbiomes offer a new and almost entirely untapped opportunity to influence interactions among plants and microbes to improve plant productivity and health," Crouch said.

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Scientists published their analysis of the National Mall's soil this week in the journal Crop Science.

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