Project

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Adaptation and stability of glacier forefield microbial communities

English title Adaptation and stability of glacier forefield microbial communities
Applicant Zeyer Josef
Number 132987
Funding scheme Interdisciplinary projects
Research institution Institut für Biogeochemie und Schadstoffdynamik ETH Zürich
Institution of higher education ETH Zurich - ETHZ
Main discipline Other disciplines of Environmental Sciences
Start/End 01.03.2011 - 28.02.2014
Approved amount 186'448.00
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Keywords (4)

Glacier forefield; Microbial communities; Resilience; Transplantation

Lay Summary (English)

Lead
Lay summary
Lead:Soil microbial communities in natural systems may be sensitive to environmental changes. With a field transplantation experiment, this project will assess environmental factors influencing microbial community structure and activity. An interdisciplinary approach will relate community stability (resistance and resilience) to different conditions. Background: In soil, a variety of environmental factors related to the physical and chemical (eg. climate, bedrock geology, pH, dissolved nutrients) nature of the site determine the presence and activity of certain microbial consortia. It is however still not well understood which factors shape microbial community structure and determine community functions. The commonly-used laboratory-based incubations of specific targets under controlled conditions may not provide a representative overview of the real situation in nature, where the combined effect of several different factors determines complex reactions. Unvegetated forefields of retreating glaciers, characterized by oligotrophy and relatively specialized microbial communities, represent optimal field test sites for the investigation of adaptation mechanisms to environmental changes. While dominant active members of these communities have been generally characterized, very little is known on their stability (resistance and resilience) to environmental disturbances, and if changing environmental factors may affect important biogeochemical processes in a predictable way.Aims:The general aim of this proposal is to investigate the role of environmental factors on structure, function, and stability of the microbial communities of unvegetated glacier forefields. We will first identify the type of environmental factors shaping structures and activities of forefield microbial communities and focus on structural and functional changes of transplanted allochtonous communities. We will then assess the stability of the communities by field-manipulating a selected environmental factor (soil moisture).Value of the proposed project:This study will provide novel information on the sensitivity of forefield microbial communities to changing environmental parameters, and thus elucidate on important soil-related and climatic factors determining ecosystem functions. Up to now these issues have not been addressed, although it is necessary to be able to predict the potentially negative effects of global climatic change in developing ecosystems. Moreover, the interdisciplinary nature of the project will provide a global overview of ecosystem processes and represent an added value in the field of Soil Science and Ecology.
Direct link to Lay Summary Last update: 21.02.2013

Responsible applicant and co-applicants

Employees

Publications

Publication
Field-scale transplantation experiment to investigate structures of soil bacterial communities at pioneering sites
Lazzaro Anna (2011), Field-scale transplantation experiment to investigate structures of soil bacterial communities at pioneering sites, in Applied and Environmental Microbiology, 77(23), 8241-8248.

Collaboration

Group / person Country
Types of collaboration
EAWAG Switzerland (Europe)
- in-depth/constructive exchanges on approaches, methods or results
ETH Zurich/GDC Switzerland (Europe)
- Research Infrastructure
University of Fribourg Switzerland (Europe)
- in-depth/constructive exchanges on approaches, methods or results
Basel University Switzerland (Europe)
- Research Infrastructure

Scientific events

Active participation

Title Type of contribution Title of article or contribution Date Place Persons involved
Nordic-Hawai'i summer school "water, ice and the origin of life in the universe" Poster Microbial diversity and biogeochemistry in glacier forefields: assessment of ecological stability in high alpine environments 02.07.2012 Reykjavik, Iceland, Iceland Meola Marco;
EGU General Assembly Poster Microbial diversity and biogeochemistry in glacier forefields: assessment of ecological stability in high alpine e 22.04.2012 Wien, Austria, Austria Meola Marco;
IBP PhD congress Poster Microbial diversity and biogeochemistry in glacier forefields: assessment of ecological stability in high alpine environments 13.04.2012 ETH Zentrum, Zurich, Switzerland Meola Marco;
MD 2011 Conference Poster Presence and diversity of bacterial functional groups in two different glacier forefields 27.10.2011 Milan, Italy, Italy Meola Marco;


Abstract

Main applicant: Prof. Dr. Josef ZeyerTitle: Adaptation and stability of glacier forefield microbial communities1.SummaryBackground: In soil, a variety of environmental factors related to the physical (eg. exposure, climate, water holding capacity) and chemical (eg. bedrock geology, pH, dissolved nutrients) nature of the site determine the presence and activity of certain microbial consortia. It is however still not well understood which factors shape microbial community structure and determine community functions. Previous research mostly focused on laboratory-based incubations, which try to isolate the effects of single factors on specific targets. This type of approach may however not be representative of the real situation in nature, where the combined effect of several different factors determines complex reactions. Studies on microbial adaptation ideally require field soil transplantations which permit to identify the key factors involved. This strategy has been successfully applied in the field of geobotany, such as in investigations of plant adaptation, but seldom in microbial ecology.We propose a field transplantation experiment using soils from unvegetated forefields of retreating glaciers as a model system. Such soils are characterized by general oligotrophy and relatively simple food webs; they represent therefore optimal sites for the investigation of adaptation mechanisms. In addition, they harbour specific functional microbial communities which are adapted to their extreme characteristics. While dominant active members of these communities have been generally characterized, very little is known on their stability (resistance and resilience) to environmental disturbances, and if changing environmental factors may affect important biogeochemical processes in a predictable way. In the proposed study, to further validate the role of the environment on microbial adaptation, the transplantation setup will be combined with inoculations of allochtonous communities and supplemented with the experimental manipulation of a selected factor (soil moisture) in the field. Aims:The general aim of this proposal is to investigate the role of environmental factors on structure, function, and stability of the microbial communities of unvegetated glacier forefields. We will specifically address the following 3 research objectives:ROI: Assess the type of factors (location and climate, bedrock geology, soil properties, intrinsic microbial community properties) shaping the structures of transplanted autochtonous and allochtonous communitiesROII: Assess the fate and effects of an allochtonous community in a receiving siteROIII: Assess stability of microbial communities of glacier forefields upon the change of soil moisture as a selected factorExperimental design and methods:The study will consider the two unvegetated forefields of Tiefen (Canton UR) and Griessen glacier (Canton OW) in the Swiss Alps (http://glaciology.ethz.ch/swiss-glaciers/). In 1-year field experiments, we will establish and incubate soil in pots provided with screens to obtain different combinations of precipitation. The setup will involve reciprocal inoculations and transplantations from the two sampling sites. Experimental data will include a multidisciplinary approach combining (I) soil physico-chemical analysis, (II) measurements of climatic parameters and (III) analysis of microbial community structure and function. Microbial community responses will be assessed through genetic profiling, quantitative analysis of functional genes and enzymatic activities. The data will be finally integrated with the environmental data to identify important variables involved in community responses and to assess stability of key microbial groups. Expected value of the proposed project:This study will provide novel information on the sensitivity of forefield communities to changing environmental parameters. We will be able to assess the resistance and resilience of key microbial groups to disturbances, which will provide useful knowledge on important soil-related and climatic factors determining ecosystem functions. Up to now these issues have not been addressed, although it is necessary to be able to predict the potentially negative effects of global climatic change in developing ecosystems. Moreover, the interdisciplinary nature of the project will provide a global overview of ecosystem processes and represent an added value in the field of Soil Science and Ecology.
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