Polar Soil Fauna in the Light of Climate Change: Is It Cool Enough?

A special issue of Biology (ISSN 2079-7737).

Deadline for manuscript submissions: closed (30 September 2023) | Viewed by 3617

Special Issue Editors


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Guest Editor
School of Biosciences, The University of Birmingham, Edgbaston, Birmingham B15 2TT, UK
Interests: environmental adaptation in insects

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Co-Guest Editor
British Antarctic Survey, High Cross, Madingley Road, Cambridge CB3 0ET, UK
Interests: polar ecology; biogeography
Special Issues, Collections and Topics in MDPI journals

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Co-Guest Editor
Department of Entomology, University of Kentucky, Lexington, KY 40546, USA
Interests: insect stress physiology; polar biology
Special Issues, Collections and Topics in MDPI journals

Special Issue Information

Dear Colleagues,

Mean temperatures in many polar regions are warming at unprecedented rates, in association with a suite of other environmental changes. Critically, this is not just increasing the heat input for terrestrial ecosystems, it is also shifting the balance of when and where melting occurs and the form of precipitation (rain vs. snow), which dramatically changes the seasonal cycle of water availability. The indigenous soil fauna in the Arctic and Antarctic are uniquely adapted to cope with long chronically cold winters within often frozen (and thus dry) microhabitats. ‘Milder’ winters create the challenges of depleting energy reserves more quickly during dormancy, exposure to more frequent freeze–thaw cycles and increased risk of inoculative freezing in wet habitats. Somewhat counter-intuitively, increased snow melt can also leave certain terrestrial habitats exposed to more severe winter cold and icing events by removing/depleting the insulating blanket of snow. Because winter conditions are currently warming faster than other seasons, an in-depth knowledge of soil fauna species cold stress physiology is critical to accurately predict the ecological consequences of climate change.

Changing summer conditions also present many important challenges, with normally short, cool summers being extended and instances of record warm air temperatures being experienced, e.g., 18.3 °C on 6 February 2020 on the Antarctic Peninsula, and 38 °C in the Russian Arctic on the 29 June 2020. While these longer growing seasons may permit more rapid development and thus population growth of soil organisms, the impacts are not uniform across all species, resulting in sometimes quite dramatic changes in community structure. Longer, warmer summers can also disrupt phenology, resulting in the ‘wrong’ developmental stages overwintering with associated consequences on winter survival, or loss of synchrony, e.g., in plant–insect or predator–prey interactions. Furthermore, extreme warm (and drying) events during summer may be pushing some polar soil organisms beyond their physiologcal stress limits.

In combination with all the abiotic environmental changes brought about by climate warming comes the biotic threat of competition from alien species whose distribution ranges have either naturally extended into higher latitudes, or have been introduced in association with increasing human movement. Where extreme winter cold and/or brief cool growing seasons were once a barrier to establishment, warmer conditions have opened the door enabling some alien species to become invasive. Just one species introduction within these often very simple ecosystems can shift the entire balance of soil communities, especially if the species introduces a new ecological function such as a novel threat of predation, or shifts rates/patterns of nutrient cycling. Here, there are important differences, and thus comparisons to be made, between the Arctic and Antarctic due to differences in the complexity of native communities and their accessibility to alien species as well as differences in rates of environmental change.

This Special Issue provides a syntheisis of studies investigating the ecology, physiology and molecular biology of the native soil fauna of the Antarctic and Arctic. Collectively, these studies will advance our understanding of species adaptations to extreme environments, as well as identifying winners and losers in the face of challenges posed by climate change. Combining this understanding with historic and future scenario microclimate data will, in turn, allow us to address key knowledge gaps in the capacity of these species to shift their distributions in response to advancing warming conditions. In turn, equivalent studies of alien species with distribution ranges currently at the edge of polar zones, in combination with assessment of the risks posed by increased human movement in these regions, will allow us to determine future invasion threats and how polar soil communities will change in future.

Dr. Scott Hayward
Dr. Peter Convey
Dr. Nicholas M. Teets
Guest Editors

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Keywords

  • arctic
  • antarctic
  • climate change
  • physiology
  • phenology
  • terrestrial
  • invertebrate
  • extreme environment
  • overwintering
  • soil fauna
  • communities

Published Papers (2 papers)

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Research

11 pages, 2362 KiB  
Article
Temperature Response of Metabolic Activity of an Antarctic Nematode
by Colin Michael Robinson, Lee D. Hansen, Xia Xue and Byron J. Adams
Biology 2023, 12(1), 109; https://doi.org/10.3390/biology12010109 - 10 Jan 2023
Cited by 3 | Viewed by 1629
Abstract
Because of climate change, the McMurdo Dry Valleys of Antarctica (MCM) have experienced an increase in the frequency and magnitude of summer pulse warming and surface ice and snow melting events. In response to these environmental changes, some nematode species in the MCM [...] Read more.
Because of climate change, the McMurdo Dry Valleys of Antarctica (MCM) have experienced an increase in the frequency and magnitude of summer pulse warming and surface ice and snow melting events. In response to these environmental changes, some nematode species in the MCM have experienced steady population declines over the last three decades, but Plectus murrayi, a mesophilic nematode species, has responded with a steady increase in range and abundance. To determine how P. murrayi responds to increasing temperatures, we measured metabolic heat and CO2 production rates and calculated O2 consumption rates as a function of temperature at 5 °C intervals from 5 to 50 °C. Heat, CO2 production, and O2 consumption rates increase approximately exponentially up to 40 °C, a temperature never experienced in their polar habitat. Metabolic rates decline rapidly above 40 °C and are irreversibly lost at 50 °C due to thermal stress and mortality. Caenorhabditis elegans, a much more widespread nematode that is found in more temperate environments reaches peak metabolic heat rate at just 27 °C, above which it experiences high mortality due to thermal stress. At temperatures from 10 to 40 °C, P. murrayi produces about 6 times more CO2 than the O2 it consumes, a respiratory quotient indicative of either acetogenesis or de novo lipogenesis. No potential acetogenic microbes were identified in the P. murrayi microbiome, suggesting that P. murrayi is producing increased CO2 as a byproduct of de novo lipogenesis. This phenomenon, in conjunction with increased summer temperatures in their polar habitat, will likely lead to increased demand for carbon and subsequent increases in CO2 production, population abundance, and range expansion. If such changes are not concomitant with increased carbon inputs, we predict the MCM soil ecosystems will experience dramatic declines in functional and taxonomic diversity. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Polar Soil Fauna in the Light of Climate Change: Is It Cool Enough?)
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24 pages, 5147 KiB  
Article
Glacial Legacies: Microbial Communities of Antarctic Refugia
by Abigail C. Jackson, Jesse Jorna, John M. Chaston and Byron J. Adams
Biology 2022, 11(10), 1440; https://doi.org/10.3390/biology11101440 - 01 Oct 2022
Cited by 3 | Viewed by 1435
Abstract
In the cold deserts of the McMurdo Dry Valleys (MDV) the suitability of soil for microbial life is determined by both contemporary processes and legacy effects. Climatic changes and accompanying glacial activity have caused local extinctions and lasting geochemical changes to parts of [...] Read more.
In the cold deserts of the McMurdo Dry Valleys (MDV) the suitability of soil for microbial life is determined by both contemporary processes and legacy effects. Climatic changes and accompanying glacial activity have caused local extinctions and lasting geochemical changes to parts of these soil ecosystems over several million years, while areas of refugia may have escaped these disturbances and existed under relatively stable conditions. This study describes the impact of historical glacial and lacustrine disturbance events on microbial communities across the MDV to investigate how this divergent disturbance history influenced the structuring of microbial communities across this otherwise very stable ecosystem. Soil bacterial communities from 17 sites representing either putative refugia or sites disturbed during the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM) (22-17 kya) were characterized using 16 S metabarcoding. Regardless of geographic distance, several putative refugia sites at elevations above 600 m displayed highly similar microbial communities. At a regional scale, community composition was found to be influenced by elevation and geographic proximity more so than soil geochemical properties. These results suggest that despite the extreme conditions, diverse microbial communities exist in these putative refugia that have presumably remained undisturbed at least through the LGM. We suggest that similarities in microbial communities can be interpreted as evidence for historical climate legacies on an ecosystem-wide scale. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Polar Soil Fauna in the Light of Climate Change: Is It Cool Enough?)
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