AbraCadabra: Shingle to soil

Last weekend I needed a good breeze of sea air, so went for a walk from Dover to Deal on the Kent coast. I’d been on this walk a while back, and recalled taking shelter from fierce winter winds under the canopy of one of the Holm oaks (Quercus ilex – an evergreen oak), somewhere between Walmer and Deal.

Many specimens have settled in the shingle, and plant communities are establishing. The perfect spot to watch how soil is formed. In a location that regularly gets flooded with sea water!

This is the edge, where things start to get interesting:

But venture further, seek the intimate aquaintance of the oak, hidden under the canopy from the views of dogwalkers, joggers, ice cream lovers, cyclists, children and parents alike. It is much quieter in this secret space.

Rest a while, and wonder.
No space for standing up – you have to sit or lie and be still.
Feel the limbs catching lightly in the sea air, vibrating the ground beneath you.

Gently brush away the top, dry layer of leaves.

And marvel at the magic. From this ….. to this …..

Shingle outside the canopy, soil and decomposing leaves under

And the magic continued when I put a sample under the microscope the next day.
I was introduced to my first non-bacterial feeding nematode, and a remarkable network of fungi. Still trying to figure out who is who!
The density of fungi when focussing through a single drop of fungi, was surprising. So many layers!

From a perspective of standardising the sampling process, this was interesting.
One gram of sample took up a considerable volume in the test tube, and did not yield any liquid when combined with water to give the typical 1:5 or 1:10 ratio. I just kept picking up organic matter.

So with gay abandon and curiosity, I added more water until I was able to take up enough water with my pipette.

I was so excited, I forgot to white balance the image, sorry. Can you spot the nematode?

A ? fungal feeding nematode, definately no elaborate lips as in the bacterial feeders, 100X total magnification
Fungal strand of a basidiomycete with clamp connection
Stretchy critter at x40 total mag. kept re-arranging the furniture and stretching/contracting lengthwise to move about. 100X
It moved like a rotifer, and I believe it is, but I did not see any propellor action.
Higher order beneficial fungi (brown) and Zygomycetes (clear) – these are a lower order in the fungal kingdom and are primary decomposers

I am still learning to reliably identify what I am actually seeing, I give no guarantees of accuracy here on the nematode! Therefore a biomass count did not seem appropriate at this stage. Who knows what I’d be counting?!
However, visual impression: I’ve never seen anything like it so far, so many fungal strands in one place!

P.S. The fungi have since been checked by a mycologist. I trust their advice, and have updated the descriptions.

2 thoughts on “AbraCadabra: Shingle to soil

  1. The fungal content of the organic matter layer can be difficult because decomposed organic matter is light and very fluffy. There’s little sand, silt or clay — just shingle material when you reach that next layer down. It isn’t really soil, it is smooth, pebble-like rock that wind and waves and organisms are slowly eating away at. But lots of good fungi in the organic matter below the oak.

    1. Isn’t that how soil starts? Rock, weathered away by biochemical and mechanical processes, combining with organic matter?

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