Defining Which Microbial Properties Matter Most to Ecosystem Function and How to Measure Them

Tuesday, August 6, 2013: 1:30 PM-5:00 PM
M100EF, Minneapolis Convention Center
Ed K. Hall, Colorado State University
Jay T. Lennon, Indiana University
Sequence based molecular microbial ecology has made environmental microbiology one of the most rapidly advancing fields in science today. Our understanding of the breadth and depth of functional and phylogenetic microbial diversity is increasing in leaps and bounds at a dramatic pace. The significance of microorganisms to ecosystem processes has been long been recognized and lead to the paradigm that more information of environmental microorganisms will lead to increased understanding of ecosystem function. We posit that while microorganisms are essential to the functioning of all ecosystems, more information on environmental microbes does not map “one-to-one” into an enhanced understanding of ecosystem processes. Rather, we note that the term “ecosystem process” is exceptionally vague and thus misleading in a way that makes formal and informal discourse on its drivers ambiguous. By specifying the question and the system of interest, which microbial community characteristics that are likely to improve understanding can be identified a priori. Given the broad interest in linking microbial and ecosystem processes and the limited but substantial resources (money, time, and research infrastructure) that are being invested, a clear and comprehensive framework defining these relationships will be of significant interest to a wide range of researchers in multiple ecological sub-disciplines. This symposium will present work-in-progress from a synthesis group funded by the John Wesley Powell Center for Analysis and Synthesis (USGS). During the course of the workshop participants have identified principal pathways that can lead to explanatory insight into ecosystem processes. Depending on the ecosystem process of interest (e.g. N2O flux vs. carbon storage), the scale the question being asked (e.g. diel vs. decadal), and the environmental stability of the system of interest (e.g. mean and range of annual temperature) it may or may not be necessary to include explicit information on the microbial community and its dynamics to an ecosystem level model. Within the microbial characteristics we identified multiple “levels” of microbial data, each of which are better suited for certain processes or certain questions. The cumulative effect of the presentations and the discussion generated by them will outline a comprehensive framework defining the intersection of microbial and ecosystem ecology that can serve as “decision tree” to guide researchers working at the interface of these disciplines. We anticipate that the outcome of the symposium presentations and subsequent discussions will be synthesized and submitted to “Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment” as an overview article for publication.
Microbial Ecology, Agroecology Section, Biogeosciences, Soil Ecology Section
2:00 PM
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Emily S. Bernhardt, Duke University; Raven L. Bier, Duke University; Benjamin P. Colman, University of Montana; Ashley Helton, Duke University
3:00 PM
3:10 PM
 Microbial community responses to changes in rainfall: moving from pattern to process
Sarah Evans, University of California Irvine; Christina Kaiser, International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis; Matthew D. Wallenstein, Colorado State University
3:40 PM
 Genomic signatures of microbial lifestyles
Stuart E. Jones, University of Notre Dame
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