Molecular Insights into Microbial Feedbacks to Climate
Earth's climate is warming, and this is exacerbated by both biophysical (e.g., albedo) and biogeochemical (e.g., carbon cycle) feedbacks. Microbes are key players in every biogeochemical cycle, regulating greenhouse gas fluxes between ecosystems and the atmosphere. Despite their pivotal role, we know little about how microbes respond to environmental change, and microbial dynamics are only beginning to be represented in ecosystem models. Advances in molecular biological methods combined with field experiments make it possible to identify the microbes that strongly influence the Earth's biogeochemical cycles critical to climate. These insights are an important first step towards explicit models of relationships between microbes and climate system feedbacks. New genomic approaches hint at what the most abundant organisms are, though their ecological roles are still becoming clear. A better understanding of microbial dynamics is critical for projecting the rate and magnitude of climate change.
As we celebrate ESA's centennial, we find ourselves at the frontier of climate change, with many projections pointing us towards worst case scenario emissions and nearing a theoretical point of no return in a matter of decades. At the same time, new technologies put us at the frontier of molecular insights, where we are able to sample the information-dense molecular pools with a depth that approaches the depth of diversity present in natural systems. There is a wealth of information in microbial communities in the form of DNA, RNA and proteins, but there are many caveats associated with the extraction, amplification, sequencing, statistical and bioinformatic analysis of natural microbial communities.
In this proposed session, we bring together investigators who are using molecular methods to disentangle the links between microbial communities and ecosystem feedbacks to climate. By bringing together researchers who are interested in these issues, we hope to highlight both the strengths to be drawn on as well as the problems to be solved, or avoided, when using molecular insights to extrapolate microbial feedbacks to climate.