UCI's Steven Allison conducts research at the Loma Ridge field site in Orange County. Lucy Lu / UCI

The U.S. Department of Energy recently awarded a UCI research team $3 million over three years to explore how drought affects microbes in surface soil that are vital to plant life and to the exchange of carbon dioxide – a greenhouse gas – among the Earth’s oceans, plants, soil and air. Steven Allison, associate professor of ecology & evolutionary biology, is the project leader. He and UCI colleagues and fellow investigators at the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab will try to develop cutting-edge biological approaches that can predict carbon release from soil under drought conditions. Soil microbial communities are necessary for sustaining plant life and storing carbon, and climate change-created drought patterns may alter them in various ways – such as influencing these communities to favor survival over growth or to produce chemical compounds that promote or reduce carbon storage. Allison said the project will provide new information about microbial drought tolerance to improve scientific predictions of carbon cycle responses to precipitation change, which could lead to a greater understanding of climate change consequences.