Partners in Understanding Life in Seawater Ecosystems (PULSE)

Partners in Understanding Life in Seawater Ecosystems (PULSE)

PULSE logoSonya Dyhrman and colleagues in the Dyhrman Group and PULSE leverage big data and genomics to improve our understanding of how warming and acidification impact marine ecosystems at the base of the food chain.

Microbes in the sea are extraordinarily numerous and diverse. They drive the cycling of carbon and greenhouse gases, supply the air we breathe, provide seafood that sustains us and our coastal way of life, and are the vast unseen majority working hard for our oceans. These tiny ocean inhabitants quite literally make the planet habitable, acting like the engine or the heart beat of the ocean ecosystem.

We are leveraging a new era in big data science, computational biology and genomics, stemming from the human genome project, to finally be able to see this unseen majority. What is the pulse of the ocean? Marine life is increasingly exposed to multiple stressors such as warming, ocean acidification, and de-oxygenation producing dead zones. Future ocean conditions may also impact the spread of toxic species with both economic and human health impacts.

Our recent research suggests that CO2 may restructure microbial communities by the year 2100 in a dramatic way (Dutkiewicz et al. 2015 Nature Climate Change), and that these microbes are very sensitive to changes in their environment (Alexander et al. 2015 PNAS). We are discovering new microbial activities (Van Mooy et al. 2015 Science) and the role of microbes in supporting the ecosystems that fuel all of global fisheries. We need to take the pulse of the ocean. How do stressors like pollution, ocean warming and acidification impact marine ecosystems and ocean health? What are the feedbacks to human health and ecosystem services? Will ocean life adapt to future changes? Are there tipping points? Ongoing and future work will leverage new approaches to address these critical areas of research.

Predicted changes in the dominant microbial groups at the base of the marine food web in the year 2100 (after Dutkiewicz et al. 2015, Nature Climate Change). A terrestrial analogy would be if forests of trees changed to forests of ferns.

Predicted changes in the dominant microbial groups at the base of the marine food web in the year 2100 (after Dutkiewicz et al. 2015). A terrestrial analogy would be if forests of trees changed to forests of ferns.