Protecting sensitive Arctic ecosystems through biodiversity mapping

Protecting sensitive Arctic ecosystems through biodiversity mapping

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The Polar regions contain vast, undiscovered biodiversity, but are the most threatened and least understood regions in the world.

Now scientists led by the University of East Anglia (UEA) and the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) are calling for a roadmap for polar ecosystems to fill this knowledge gap, sustain polar life and even protect “our everyday lives and the health of our planet”. The study will map the biodiversity in those areas, from the atmosphere to the deep sea, and from land to the oceans.

The authors said concerted action is needed to mitigate the impact of global warming on polar ecosystems through conservation efforts, sustainably managing these unique habitats and their ecosystem services, and sustainable bioprospecting for new genes and compounds for societal gain.

“Multi-omics for studying and understanding polar life” was published in Nature Communications. This paper was co-authored by the University of East Anglia, BAS, and Bielefeld University, Germany.

Polar ecosystems are the most threatened because they are the most sensitive to global warming. They are being lost at a rapid pace, and with them all the biology that provides ecosystem services and biological regulation of climate, including the carbon cycle.

Professor Thomas Mock, Professor of Marine Microbiology in the School of Environmental Sciences at the University of East Anglia, is the joint lead author with Professor Melody Clarke, Project Leader of the British Antarctic Survey.

Professor Thomas Mock said: “Biodiversity projections in the Polar regions can only be built reliably if we have a sufficiently deep understanding of the diversity, ecological functions and interrelationships of Polar organisms, as well as their ability to adapt to climate change.”

“These remote regions play major, often underappreciated, roles in the carbon cycle and drive fluxes of nutrients and dissolved organic matter globally. Thus, polar environmental and ecological processes are closely linked to our daily lives and the health of our planet, many of which depend on endemic organisms.” “From viruses to large animals.”

“There is strong evidence that climate-induced changes in polar regions are already changing the distribution of species on land and in the sea, with significant impacts on ecosystem function.”

Some species have shifted poleward, which has had an indirect effect on the food chain. Polar life, from microbes to seals, whales and polar bears, depends largely on generally low temperatures and greater snow and ice cover, and suffers from the effects of global warming.

In the Arctic, temperatures are rising at least four times faster than elsewhere, destabilizing the Arctic jet stream and increasing the likelihood of extreme weather events, including heatwaves, droughts and floods in temperate regions.

On Earth, thawing permafrost and collapsing Arctic coasts are dramatically altering ecological interactions and biogeochemistry due to the release of millennia-old stores of carbon, trace elements, nutrients, and perhaps even ancient viruses and cryogenic pathogenic bacteria.

In the oceans, the increased seasonal melting of sea ice greatly stabilizes surface waters, reducing the amount of nutrients needed for primary production to occur.

Likewise, the situation in the Southern Ocean and Antarctica is equally bleak, especially for the Antarctic Peninsula, which has already experienced significant levels of global warming that have led to increased loss of sea ice and glaciers.

The Southern Ocean is responsible for absorbing three-quarters of the anthropogenic heat absorbed by the ocean and up to half of carbon withdrawals. It represents about 40% of the global ocean’s uptake of anthropogenic carbon dioxide2 And about 50% of the total atmospheric absorption. Moreover, carbon sequestration by organisms living in polar seas is perhaps the largest natural negative response to climate change.

Climate impacts on biodiversity and ecosystem functioning in both the Arctic and Antarctica serve as an indicator of the consequences of global warming, including the persistence of biodiversity on Earth.

Professor Clarke said: “Sequencing technologies have dramatically changed our abilities to decipher how organisms work. However, uptake of polar biology has been relatively low, especially when considering the tens of thousands of polar-dwelling species that are at risk in our lifetime.” Warming world.

“Understanding how many very strange organisms live in extreme cold could help answer global questions and provide real benefits to society. Failing to act now would result in a significant loss of knowledge regarding evolutionary adaptation to cold.”

Genomic screening not only offers the potential to identify populations vulnerable to stress, but can also be used to monitor invasive species, thus facilitating early interventions.

Professor Mok said: “As the cold regions of our planet diminish, there is a real imperative to obtain complete genome sequences of the diverse organisms that live in polar ecosystems, from the depths of the oceans to the permafrost on Earth, for both the Arctic and Antarctic. This will “Enabling broader application of omics technologies to polar species, which will revolutionize our understanding of the evolution of cold and adaptive responses to a warming world.”

more information:
M. S. Clark et al., Multi-omics for studying and understanding polar life, Nature Communications (2023). doi: 10.1038/s41467-023-43209-y

Magazine information:
Nature Communications

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