Global Warming in Freshwaters: Implications for the Microbial-Meiofaunal Loop
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Climate change can have potentially catastrophic effects upon biodiversity and food web structure and according to the fourth IPCC report, ambient temperatures will rise by between 3.0 -5.0 °C over the next century, with already an average increase in global surface temperature of ~0.74°C in the past 100 years. This has known implications in ecology from individuals to ecosystems. The microbial loop consists of small organisms ranging in body size from bacteria (1-15 μm), single-celled eukaryotes (10-1000 μm) and multicellular organisms (250 – 1000 μm) that assimilate dissolved organic carbon into the “classical food web”. ! The principal goal of this thesis was to assess how rising global temperatures might impact the natural microbial assemblages in 20 mesocosms under 2 treatments – 10 warmed (in line with IPCC predictions) and 10 ambient. The abundance and body mass of 4 major microbial loop taxa (desmids, flagellates, heterotrophic protists and meiofauna) were quantified at monthly intervals over a 2-year period. Secondly, in a microcosm experiment, the population dynamics of three pure cultures of ciliates were monitored across a temperature gradient; the rate of population decline under starvation and changes in body size were quantified.! Results showed that (1) rising global temperatures alters the size spectrum in the autotrophic protists, (2) temperature interacts with temporal and spatial gradients, resulting in changes in phenology (3) these changes in phenology are observable at both the community level and the population level within the microbial assemblage of the mesocosms and (4) extinction rates and body mass reduction in experimental microcosms were faster at warmer temperatures and partially support predictions of the metabolic theory of ecology.! The implications of these findings are discussed in terms of (1) continued research into the role that small organisms play in community and ecosystem ecologyand (2) the use of these small organisms in experiments as models to inform ecological theory by scaling up from microcosms and finally, (3) I discuss future directions in freshwater microbial ecology, focusing on the increased use of molecular techniques.
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