Abstract

Antarctica, widely known for its extreme harsh environment, is currently undergoing changes caused by global warming. Rising temperatures are causing glaciers to retreat, precipitations to increase and ice shelves to collapse, drastically impacting Antarctic ecosystems. The purpose of this study is to review the available literature about the microbial communities inhabiting soils of Antarctica’s McMurdo Dry Valleys, and better understand the potential impact of climate change on these ecosystems. Understanding contemporary drivers of the structure and function of these microbial communities will help predict how they might respond to climate change in the future. Warming processes are likely to lead to increased soil microbial diversity across the region. Escalations in temperature increases the availability of liquid water, the key driver of microbial communities in soil ecosystems. Increases in moisture also allow for salts and nutrient mobilization, abiotic factors that limit many microbial species. The reviewed literature suggests that communities are shifting and are expected to shift towards more productive soil communities and more generalist species. Longer and warming growing seasons are expected to heighten microbial activity and biogeochemical cycling. Photosynthetic organisms are being found in regions where water was not previously available suggesting that relatively small changes can lead to community responses that may increase the propensity of the McMurdo Dry Valleys to become greener, putting at risk the unique and protected hyper-arid environment.

Department

Biological Sciences

Faculty Advisor

Eric Bottos

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The Impacts of Climate Change on Microbial Community Structure and Function in Antarctic Ecosystems

Antarctica, widely known for its extreme harsh environment, is currently undergoing changes caused by global warming. Rising temperatures are causing glaciers to retreat, precipitations to increase and ice shelves to collapse, drastically impacting Antarctic ecosystems. The purpose of this study is to review the available literature about the microbial communities inhabiting soils of Antarctica’s McMurdo Dry Valleys, and better understand the potential impact of climate change on these ecosystems. Understanding contemporary drivers of the structure and function of these microbial communities will help predict how they might respond to climate change in the future. Warming processes are likely to lead to increased soil microbial diversity across the region. Escalations in temperature increases the availability of liquid water, the key driver of microbial communities in soil ecosystems. Increases in moisture also allow for salts and nutrient mobilization, abiotic factors that limit many microbial species. The reviewed literature suggests that communities are shifting and are expected to shift towards more productive soil communities and more generalist species. Longer and warming growing seasons are expected to heighten microbial activity and biogeochemical cycling. Photosynthetic organisms are being found in regions where water was not previously available suggesting that relatively small changes can lead to community responses that may increase the propensity of the McMurdo Dry Valleys to become greener, putting at risk the unique and protected hyper-arid environment.

 

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