Seasonal Primary Productivity and Nitrogen Cycling in Photosynthetic Mats, Lake Fryxell, McMurdo Dry Valleys
Seasonality of Benthic Mats in Lake Fryxell
This project focuses on understanding annual changes in microbial life that grows on the bottom of Lake Fryxell, Antarctica. Because of its polar latitude, photosynthesis can only occur during the summer. During summer, photosynthetic bacteria supply communities with energy and oxygen. However, it is unknown how the microbes behave in the dark winter, when observations are not possible. This project will perform laboratory experiments with a cyanobacterial mat grown from Lake Fryxell samples. Once fieldwork is allowed, we will install environmental monitors and light-blocking shades over small parts of the communities in Lake Fryxell. The shades will extend winter conditions into the spring to allow researchers to characterize the winter behavior of the microbial communities. Researchers will measure changes in the water chemistry due to their activities when they first receive light as the shades are removed. Results are expected to provide insights into how organisms interact with and change their environments. The project extends these scientific results to building a better-prepared, more diverse workforce to perform scientific fieldwork. Fieldwork, including diving, will be performed in part by graduate students under the mentorship of world experts in Antarctic field science. In addition, the project will help students and early career scientists learn field skills by building an online “Guide to Thrive.” This web site will compile field tips ranging from basic gear use to advanced environmental protection techniques. Group leaders ranging from undergraduate teaching assistants to Antarctic expedition leaders will be able to choose appropriate components to build tailored guides for their participants to help them thrive in difficult field conditions. The researchers will measure laboratory-based and field-based seasonal metabolic and biogeochemical changes in benthic mats using differential gene expression and geochemical gradients. They will identify seasonal phenotypic differences and ecosystem effects induced by spring oxygen production. To do so, researchers will install environmental sensors and opaque shades over mats at three depths in the lake. The following spring, they will sample shaded and unshaded mats, remove the shades, track changes in pore water O2, H2S, pH, and redox with microelectrodes, and sample mats for transcriptomic analyses at intervals guided by geochemical changes. Pore water will be sampled for nutrient analyses. Field research will be supplemented with: laboratory experiments to refine field techniques (expanded effort due to COVID field restrictions); gene expression data analysis; and integration of results into a seasonal model of productivity and nitrogen cycling in Lake Fryxell. Results will provide insights into several key priorities for NSF, including how biotic, abiotic and environmental components of the benthic mats interact to affect the regional ecosystem.
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