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Ms Kasia Bialkowski

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Ms Kasia Bialkowski
PhD student

Topic: investigating microbial biodiversity and forest soils.

Murdoch University

Email: K.Bialkowski@murdoch.edu.au

Kasia Bialkowski has just started a PhD project at Murdoch University investigating microbial biodiversity and forest soils. Kasia says that microbes "run and rule" the natural world and she wants to know just how they do that!

Microbial communities are at the heart of some fundamental ecological processes. A multitude of species of bacteria, protozoa, algae, fungi and other organisms create complex micro-ecosystems between grains of rock, 'mining' them for inorganic nutrients and incorporating them into the food chain. Microbes also break down the remains of higher organisms so that nutrients are made available to invertebrates and plants. Microbe–plant associations, both beneficial and detrimental to plants, have a major influence on the success of forestry and agriculture, as well as a role in  maintaining biologically diverse ecosystems. Our knowledge of microbial ecology is not yet complete, but it is growing rapidly with recent advances in technology.

It has been hypothesised that soil condition can be quantified by indicators of soil microbial activities. Due to extensive research in recent years, there are now many indicators to choose from (for example, enzymatic activities, DNA markers and physiological profiles). However, different soils may vary greatly, depending on substrate, age, land use history and climate; therefore, choosing the right indicators and methods for the right purpose is complex. Nevertheless, once these indicators are established, they can provide a means to assess and monitor ecosystem health.

My PhD research is within the Biodiversity project (4.2.2) of the CRC.

The study is supervised by Dr Robert Archibald, Dr Treena Burgess and Professor Giles Hardy and is funded by Murdoch University and the CRC for Forestry. 

It is part of a study of native vegetation remnants within blue gum plantations located in south-western Western Australia and focuses on the role of soil microbes in managing biodiversity.

The main aims of the study are to:

  • investigate the microbial communities in healthy and degraded remnants in reference to native bush and pasture sites—for remnant classification and monitoring
  • investigate the influence of restoration practices and soil amendments on microbial communities—for improved restoration success.

The project will develop our understanding of the links between soil function and above-ground biodiversity as well as changes in soil microbial communities during degradation and restoration processes. It will also provide some additional tools for the assessment of remnant condition and possibly some novel restoration methods.

My background in biotechnology (MSc studies completed in Poland) and professional experience in Australia in medical science have been very useful for developing laboratory methods for my PhD project. My current studies allow me to develop skills specific to the environmental sciences. I am excited by the prospect of learning more about soil microbial community functions and thereby making a contribution to maintaining and improving sustainable, biologically diverse and productive ecosystems.