Schoolyard Biodiversity Determines Short-Term Recovery of Disturbed Skin Microbiota in Children

Jacob G. Mills, Caitlin A. Selway, Torsten Thomas, Laura S. Weyrich, Andrew J. Lowe

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


Creating biodiverse urban habitat has been proposed, with growing empirical support, as an intervention for increasing human microbial diversity and reducing associated diseases. However, ecological understanding of urban biodiversity interventions on human skin microbiota remains limited. Here, we experimentally test the hypotheses that disturbed skin microbiota recover better in outdoor schoolyard environments and that greater biodiversity provides a greater response. Repeating the experiment three times, we disturbed skin microbiota of fifty-seven healthy 10-to-11-year-old students with a skin swab (i.e., cleaning), then exposed them to one school environment—either a ‘classroom’ (n = 20), ‘sports field’ (n = 14), or biodiverse ‘forest’ (n = 23)—for 45 min. Another skin swab followed the exposure to compare ‘before’ and ‘after’ microbial communities. After 45 min, the disturbance immediately followed by outdoor exposure, especially the ‘forest’, had an enriching and diversifying effect on skin microbiota, while ‘classroom’ exposure homogenised inter-personal variability. Each effect compounded over consecutive days indicating longer-term exposure outcomes. The experimental disturbance also reduced the core skin microbiota, and only outdoor environments were able to replenish lost species richness to core membership (n species > 50% prevalent). Overall, we find that environmental setting, especially including biodiversity, is important in human microbiota recovery periods and that the outdoors provide resilience to skin communities. This work also has implications for the inclusion of short periods of outside or forest exposure in school scheduling. Future investigations of the health impacts of permanent urban biodiversity interventions are needed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)658-669
Number of pages12
JournalMicrobial Ecology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jul 2023

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Ecology
  • Soil Science


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