STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
And now this - we have the dirt on New York. To be precise, we have the dirt on the dirt in Central Park, a few blocks north of where I'm sitting. NPR's Christopher Joyce spoke scientists who went on a kind of expedition into the soil.
CHRISTOPHER JOYCE, BYLINE: There were 10 of them - soil ecologists, dirt doctors. Kelly Ramirez from Colorado State University was among them.
KELLY RAMIREZ: We met on the steps of the Natural History Museum at 7 in the morning with our collection gear, coolers, our sunblock.
JOYCE: Their goal, to look for microbes - why? - because Ramirez was head of the global soil biodiversity project.
RAMIREZ: I think soil biodiversity is like the stars beneath our feet. There's so much going on in the soil. It's just a hotspot, teaming with so many different types of organisms.
JOYCE: Microbes are architects of soil. And regarding microbes, Central Park was terra incognita. So the team fanned out and dug. Onlookers were, well, blase; I mean, come on, this was New York.
RAMIREZ: I think because they're used to weird things going on in the park, it just probably looked sort of normal that we were collecting.
JOYCE: But, the scientific team was surprised. They found almost 170,000 different kinds of microbes. They didn't expect an urban park to measure up to wild places.
RAMIREZ: There's as much biodiversity in the soils of Central Park as we found in the soil spanning from the Arctic to Antarctica - temperate forest, tropical forest, desert.
JOYCE: That's on average. Some places are a bit more or less diverse than Central Park. Why would a park be so diverse? Well, Central Park has been heavily managed. People have added lots of different kinds of plants and fertilizers and chemicals. That created lots of different environments for a variety of critters to grow across the park. You can find out about all of 170,000 of them in the Journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B. Christopher Joyce, NPR News.
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