NSFGEO-NERC: Evolutionary Response of Southern Ocean Diatoms to Environmental Change
The research will examine how diatoms (an important group of plankton in the Southern Ocean) adapt to environmental change. Diatoms will be sampled from different regions of the Southern Ocean, including the Drake Passage, the Pacific Sector of the Southern Ocean and the Ross Sea and examined to determine the range of genetic variation among diatoms in these regions. Experiments on a range of diatoms will be conducted in home laboratories and will be aimed at measuring shifts in physiological capacities over many generations in response to directional changes in the environment (temperature and pH). The information on the genetic diversity of field populations combined with information on potential rates of adaptability and genome changes will provide insight into ways in which polar marine diatoms populations may respond to environmental changes that may occur in surface oceans in the future or may have occurred during past climate conditions. Such information allows better modeling of biogeochemical cycles in the ocean as well as improves our abilities to interpret records of past ocean conditions. The project will support a doctoral student and a postdoctoral researcher as well as several undergraduate students. These scientists will learn the fundamentals of experimental evolution, a skill set that is being sought in the fields of biology and oceanography. The project also includes a collaboration with the Metcalf Institute for Marine and Environmental Reporting that will design and facilitate a session focused on current research related to evolution and climate change to be held at the annual conference of the National Association of Science Writers (NASW).
Both physiological and genetic variation are key parameters for understanding evolutionary processes in phytoplankton but they are essentially unknown for Southern Ocean diatoms. The extent to which these two factors determine plasticity and adaptability in field populations and the interaction between them will influence how and whether cold-adapted diatoms can respond to changing environments. This project includes a combination of field work to identify genetic diversity within diatoms using molecular approaches and experiments in the lab to assess the range of physiological variation in contemporary populations of diatoms and evolution experiments in the lab to assess how the combination of genetic diversity and physiological variation influence the evolutionary potential of diatoms under a changing environment. This research will uncover general relationships between physiological variation, genetic diversity, and evolutionary potential that may apply across microbial taxa and geographical regions, substantially improving efforts to predict shifts in marine ecosystems. Results from this study can be integrated into developing models that incorporate evolution to predict ecosystem changes under future climate change scenarios.
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