With 170 Munros sampled by the end of 2023, the Mountain Heights, Hidden Depths project has so far generated a massive 510 soil samples from Munros spanning the length and breadth of Scotland. Over the autumn and winter the lab team have been working hard to process all of these samples and prepare them for DNA sequencing to reveal the biodiversity that they contain. Each sample has been split into two parts, with the first part used for extraction of DNA and the second part used to analyse the chemistry of the soil including its acidity and the amount of carbon and nitrogen it contains. The video below lets you see inside our labs and illustrates the journey taken by your samples as we prepare them and extract the DNA for sequencing.

Once the DNA has been extracted and quality checked we send it away for sequencing. DNA from the samples collected in 2023 was sent for sequencing in early 2024 and we have now received the raw data. These data will be analysed to convert the fragments of DNA code into sequences which can be used to identify the organisms present in the samples. This is the point at which the analysis gets exciting as we start to reveal the diversity of organisms present in our mountain soils and their distribution across Scotland. To give you an idea of the amount of diversity we could expect to find, read about the results of our 2021 pilot study where we investigated alpine fungal diversity in the soils of the Cairngorms National Park. The Cairngorms study only looked at soil fungi, while in the Mountain Heights, Hidden Depths project we are using DNA markers which can detect a much wider range of organisms, so we will certainly find much greater diversity.

Who is funding the project?

The project is funded by the Scottish Government Rural and Environmental Science and Analytical Services (RESAS) as part of the Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture Strategic Research Programme, project JHI-D4-3 Scotland’s biodiversity: People, Data and Monitoring.