Soil Food

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"I'm every Worm, It's Soil in me...
anything you want decomposed baby,
I do it naturaly..
Soil - Soil- Soil - Soil"  

Trophic Level One: Photosynthesis

Soil is a complex web of life. For our roots to grow, there are numerous mutualistic and symbiotic relationships that must be respected. It all starts with the oldest lifeforms, the prokaryotes leading into eukaryotes with complex structures that over billions of years developed the complex structures required to turn sunlight into energy. Bacteria is a giant family with modern day scientists estimating there to be thousands of phyla, but only six of the numerous phylum of bacteria contain complex pigment structures such as chloroplasts and carotenoids and even melanin that allow them to generate and build carbon based life from sunlight through the process of photosynthesis.

Details on the phytochemistry of bacteria, evolution of mitochondria, and hydrogen production from bacteria are available at the following links.

https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/agricultural-and-biological-sciences/photosynthetic-bacteria

“The process of photosynthesis originated early in Earth’s history, and has evolved to its current mechanistic diversity and phylogenetic distribution by a complex, nonlinear process. Current evidence suggests that the earliest photosynthetic organisms were anoxygenic, that all photosynthetic RCs have been derived from a single source, and that antenna systems and carbon fixation pathways have been invented multiple times.” https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2949000/  goes into details about the evolution of chlorophyll from early interactions in the Archaea and Bacteria in anaerobic environments.

Photosynthesis occurs in plants and bacteria, but not fungi; however, some fungi do form mutualistic symbiotic relationships with algae and form lichens, and also with cyanobacteria and other plants, even animals. Pigments in the cells of single or multicellular plants and bacteria use the energy of sunlight to change carbon dioxide and water into oxygen and glucose. Life on Earth is possible because some of the ancient single celled archaea absorbed other archaea and grew into powerhouses like mitochondria and pigments such as chlorophyll A & B. Archaea developed processes for turning sunlight into six sided carbon rings, developed organelles and grew into (or absorbed one another to become) eukaryotic bacteria, which unquestionably generate the majority of the oxygen on earth through photosynthesis and are the basis of the entire food chain. Bacteria primarily feed the next trophic level, although decaying matter also feeds both level 1 & 2.

Trophic Level 2: Protozoa, Nematodes & Fungi

Protozoa

Protozoa are eukaryotes that feed on bacteria, other protozoa, soluble organic matter, and sometimes fungi. They are several times larger than prokaryotic bacteria releasing excess nitrogen that can then be used by plants and other members of the food web.

There are three groups of protozoa.

1. Flagellates are the smallest of the protozoa and use a few whip-like flagella to move.

2. Amoebae are larger and move by means of a temporary foot or “pseudopod.” Amoebae are further divided into testate amoebae (which make a shell-like covering) and naked amoebae (without a covering). 3. Ciliates are the largest and move by means of hair-like cilia. They eat the other two types of protozoa, as well as bacteria. 

Protozoa do not contain nor need the same amount of nitrogen as the bacteria they consume. As they feed and digest thousands of bacteria cells per protozoan cell each day, they release the excess nitrogen in the form of ammonium (NH4+).  

Fungi

Fungi are absolutely magical and necessary for life on earth as we know it. There are two primary forms of fungi that we must discuss when the topic is Soil Food.

  1. Mycorrhizae, the microscopic hyphae and fungal threads that extend throughout every biome forming symbiotic and mutualistic relationships with the roots of plants such that they share resources and information in very complex ways. This is the internet of the soil, truly communicating and even demonstrating intelligence. While some fungi do form mutualistic symbiotic relationships with algae and cyanobacteria allowing them the benefits of cells that do photosynthesize, the fungi cells themselves do not. Mycorrhizae usually grow beneath the soil away from the sunlight necessary for photosynthesis. This underground network makes nutrients available to the plant roots that otherwise would not be available. Because the microscopic hyphae can extend within the six sided carbon rings of other lifeforms, this particular type of organism can regulate chemical processes that can even determine what grows where.
  2. The fruiting bodies of the underground network are the second type that we are more familiar with looking from above ground. These decompose decaying materials and spread spores which will become new hyphae. Next time you are in the forest or even in your back yard, say thank you to the fungi. https://symsoil.com/mycorrhizal-fungi/

Nematodes

Nematodes are non segmented worms that can be divided into four groups based on how they interact with the soil web. Bacterial feeders, fungal feeders, predatory and omnivore. Nematodes can be found at every trophic level above level 2 because they not only eat bacteria, but they eat all of the other things that eat bacteria, other nematodes, and even live inside of large animals like us. The vast majority of nematodes are not fungal feeders or root feeders and are not there to destroy the root systems of plants. Their primary function is to control parasites and diseases by consuming vast quantities of bacteria and protozoa and also consuming fungi. Similar to the effects found in soil when protozoa consume vast amounts of bacteria, when nematodes feast on bacteria they too do not need as much Nitrogen as the bacteria have available so they return nitrogen to the soil as NH4+. We can take soil samples and look at the feeding end of nematodes to be able to identify what they primarily feed on by looking at the parts of their mouths. You will find more details at this website.

https://www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/detailfull/soils/health/biology/?cid=nrcs142p2_053866

The soil cycle is not linear. Many nematodes become prey to fungus and bacteria. Soil is a complex relationship of microscopic organisms that have evolved over billions of years exchanging and ingesting rNA and DNA. We can and must use various nematode and arthropod populations to determine soil and water quality. Get to know your nematodes. Hint: They’re likely living inside you too.

Trophic Level 3

The third trophic level is comprised of organisms that eat the organisms who consume the bacteria. As discussed above, nematodes are definitely consumers of fungi and protozoa so they would without a doubt sometimes be in higher trophic levels. To keep things simple, the third trophic level consists of organisms engaged in predation of other organisms. They are also shredders who chop and dice the decaying leaf and plant and dead animal litter in and above the soil, and what are called grazers. Protozoa can even be in the third trophic level as grazers feeding on the numerous bacteria (those who photosynthesize and those that do not).

Trophic Level 4: Predators

This trophic level consists of primarily members of the animal kingdom who are large enough to see with the human eye. Larger nematodes like roundworms, arthropods, insects and segmented worms are all considered animals and predators. One of the most beneficial predatory animals is not what you would think of as a predator, but when it comes to the Soil Food Web, it is an apex predator. The earthworm, like the nematode, is in the animal kingdom but is in a different phylum than Nematoda. Earthworms are in the phylum Annelida. The importance of viable colonies of segmented earthworms can not be overstated nor underestimated when dealing with the web of life. Vermiculture is the practice of raising earthworms to create soil and fertilizer using vegetable scraps, shredded paper, coffee grounds, sawdust, and other cellulose and plant materials for the benefit of feeding the soil. In my home worm bins, you can easily see my favorite arthropods, the rollie pollie, chowing down on leaf matter. We also raise red wiggler worms, crickets, and meal worms. The more you nurture nature at the depths of her soil, the more she nurtures you at the depths of your soul.

A culture of vultures calls worms and bugs vermin
vermiculite and paper shreds 
I grin and dig the worms in
Black Gold 
from spam and detritus no waste
old news & old food grows soil 
want for naught zero haste
coffee grounds and potato skins 
arthropods and spider grins
Back to the Soil where it all begins and ends
Web of life, those I call "friends"

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