Tiao, G., Lee, C. K., McDonald, I. R., Cowan, D. A., & Cary, S. C. (2012). Rapid microbial response to the presence of an ancient relic in the Antarctic Dry Valleys. Nature Communications, 3, 660.
Permanent Research Commons link: http://hdl.handle.net/10289/7498
The extreme cold and aridity of the Antarctic McMurdo Dry Valleys have led to the longstanding belief that metabolic rates of soil microbiota are negligible, and that ecosystem changes take place over millennia. Here we report the first direct experimental evidence that soil microbial communities undergo rapid and lasting changes in response to contemporary environmental conditions. Mummified seals, curious natural artifacts found scattered throughout Dry Valleys, alter their underlying soil environment by stabilizing temperatures, elevating relative humidity and reducing ultraviolet exposure. In a unique, multi-year mummified seal transplantation experiment, we found that endemic Dry Valley microbial communities responded to these changes within 3 years, resulting in a sevenfold increase in CO2 flux and a significant reduction in biodiversity. These findings challenge prevailing ideas about Antarctic Dry Valley ecosystems and indicate that current and future environmental conditions may strongly influence the ecology of the dominant biota in the Dry Valleys.
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