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Current Issue of Nature Features Microbial Diversity Study by Professor Jessica Lee Green

December 8, 2004

MERCED — The latest issue of Nature magazine features an article by Jessica Lee Green, a new professor in the School of Natural Sciences at UC Merced. Not only did the magazine publish Green's work, her paper was chosen as a featured item in the publication's press release highlighting the contents of the new issue. The article by Green and co-authors at the University of Sydney and Macquarie University, gives results from a study they performed in Australia to analyze and predict patterns of biodiversity in populations of soil microbes.

“A featured article in Nature is an outstanding accomplishment for Professor Green, particularly at this early stage of her career,” said Maria Pallavicini, Dean of Natural Sciences at UC Merced. “We congratulate her on this achievement and look forward to her next discoveries.”

Microbial fungi, the organisms studied in Green's work, are among the recyclers that decompose dead plants, animals, and other organic matter into soil. Green's work uses data mapping and genetic analyses of microbial fungi found in more than 1500 soil samples collected over 100 square kilometers in Sturt National Park in Australia. She and her colleagues found that like plants and animals, these microbes exhibit spatially predictable, aggregated patterns, from local to regional scales.

“The debate over the existence of biogeographical patterns among microorganisms is one of the great debates of modern microbial ecology,” Green explained. “The prevailing view expects that unlike macroorganisms, microorganisms will prove nearly ubiquitous geographically, she said. Our data counters this view, and suggests that there are biodiversity scaling rules universal to all life.”

Green's work uses ecology, statistics, mathematics, informatics, and computer science to characterize biodiversity. She has studied this issue in connection with plant species in California's serpentine grasslands and in tropical forests, as well as with soil microbe populations in Australia.

“We found that microbial communities located close together were more similar in composition than communities located farther apart,” Green said of the Australian study being published in Nature. “These findings may significantly change current perceptions and models relevant to species invasions, ecosystem function and global climate change.” She also noted that the analyses suggest a possible way to estimate microbial diversity at the global scale.

The current issue of Nature also contains a study by Claire Horner-Devine of Stanford University examining the diversity of communities of bacteria. The two studies complement each other by arriving at similar conclusions while studying different types of populations over different spatial scales, in different habitats, on different continents, using different molecular techniques.

Green, who was hired by the university earlier in 2004, is currently a visiting scholar at the Center for Theoretical Study in the Czech Republic. She returns to UC Merced in January. In addition to studies on biodiversity, she has been involved in the application of theoretical approaches to estimate extinction risk from global warming.

Nature is a journal of peer-reviewed articles collected from all areas of scientific research and interest. It aims to serve scientists through prompt publication of significant advances in any branch of science, and to provide a forum for the reporting and discussion of news and issues concerning science and to ensure that the results of science are rapidly disseminated to the public throughout the world, in a fashion that conveys their significance for knowledge, culture and daily life.