Australian Microbiome supported research spotlight – microbiome of urban green spaces

Urban ecosystems are highly dynamic environments receiving high pressures from human activities. Despite the highly converted landscapes, urban microbial communities play an integral role in maintaining core ecosystem services in these environments. The composition and diversity of the microbiome of built environments and green spaces are being increasingly considered as having key impact on urban dwellers, including human health. 

In particular, over the last few decades, the rate of allergic and autoimmune disorders has been increasing. Several hypotheses (Hygiene, Old Friends and Biodiversity Hypotheses) suggest that this trend is related to urbanisation and an associated reduction in our exposure to biodiverse microbial communities. However, very few studies have tested the underlying assumption that people living in cities are exposed to microbial communities of lower diversity by comparing the diversity of microbial community along urbanisation gradients. In addition, few studies have investigated the potential for urban green spaces to provide an opportunity for urban dwellers to experience diverse microbiome exposure. 

Two research groups are leading coordinated efforts to investigate the influence of urban green spaces on human health with support from the Australian Microbiome initiative.

  • Flies E, Jones P from the University of Tasmania – Can urban green spaces provide microbially biodiverse health refuges for city residents? A study of soil and aerial microbiomes across the greater Hobart region.
  • Hahs A, Aponte C, Mavoa S, from the University of Melbourne – Pilot study: how does the soil microbiome vary between types of urban green space where children spend time?

These studies will contribute to Australian and international microbiome science by testing differences in microbial composition and diversity across green space areas. The Tasmanian project will assess the microbial community diversity in residential and public green spaces along an urbanisation gradient in Hobart ranging from the rural fringe to highly built up zones. The study will complement a parallel project on public green spaces in Melbourne that will conduct a pilot sampling to determine the variation in the soil microbiome of the different types of greenspace children visit, and the level of human activity within those green spaces.

Collection of air and soils have been completed for the Tasmanian part of the microbiome of urban green spaces activities and the soil samples analyses are underway. This constitutes an exciting extension for the coverage of natural environments included as part of the supported research activities of the initiative.