Controls over decomposition by microbial communities under climate change

Setting up climate gradient sites

The goal of this project is to simulate climate change—using natural environmental variation and computer models—and measure the effects on microbial diversity and activity. Current computer models assume that all microbes are equivalent and will speed up their metabolism under climate warming. But recent studies suggest that microbes, like most organisms, are tuned to their native environmental conditions. They may need time to adapt to a new climate. Not all microbes—especially those from cool, wet ecosystems—may have the genes necessary to thrive in a hotter, drier climate. If not, then microbial metabolism might not increase as quickly as expected with global warming.

We will transplant microbes from cool, wet locations and measure how fast they can recycle dead plant matter under warmer conditions. It’s possible that the cool-adapted microbes will lack essential genes for survival in hotter climates. To test this possibility, we will use DNA sequencing to identify the genes present in the microbes from each climate condition. This study will show whether the genetic content of microbes might limit greenhouse gas production when climate changes.

Funded by NSF Ecosystem Studies

© Steven Allison 2012