Mapping polar ecosystems for a better understanding | Polarjournal
The polar regions are the most sensitive to global warming, and therefore the most threatened. They are rapidly disappearing, and with them the ecosystems they support. However, if these are still poorly understood, their interactions with the rest of the environment are even less so. Image: Mirjana Binggeli

Establishing a roadmap of polar ecosystems, in all their biodiversity, from the atmosphere to the bottom of the oceans in order to better understand and preserve them, is the request of scientists from the University of East Anglia (UEA ), the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) and the University of Bielefeld.

The polar regions have an incredibly biodiversity. However, it is often poorly understood, and discoveries have yet to be made. At the same time, the Arctic and Antarctic are particularly threatened by global warming. Their biodiversity is threatened with extinction, and with it all the biology that provides both ecosystem services and biological climate regulation.

In an article published on November 20 in Nature Communications, the authors are calling for a roadmap for polar ecosystems. “Biodiversity projections for the polar regions can only be reliably constructed if we have a sufficiently profound understanding of the diversity, ecological functions, and interrelations of polar organisms, as well as their resilience to climate change.”, says Thomas Mock, Professor of Marine Microbiology in UEA’s School of Environmental Sciences and co-lead author of the article, in a recent UEA press release.

The polar Tree of Life, from the microbes in the oceans, ice and earth to the megafauna. In this diagram, poles monitoring is represented by research stations and an automatic autosub engine, as well as by ships, which also represent the potential risk of introducing invasive alien species. Omics can be used to assess the biodiversity of this system as a whole, as well as the evolutionary history of individual species. This would also give an indication of adaptability. Graph: Clark et al.

To carry out this project, the authors are relying on genomic screening. In their view, the latter offers both the possibility of identifying populations under stress and monitoring invasive species, enabling early intervention. “With the cold regions of our planet diminishing, there is a real imperative to obtain full genome sequences for diverse organisms inhabiting polar ecosystems, from the deep oceans to the permafrost on land, for both the Arctic and Antarctic. This will enable the wider application of omics technologies to polar species, which will revolutionise our understanding of evolution in the cold and adaptive responses to a warming world.”, says Professor Mock. “This will enable the wider application of omics technologies to polar species, which will revolutionise our understanding of evolution in the cold and adaptive responses to a warming world.”

Omics are powerful technologies used for global analysis of the molecules making up the cells of living organisms (genomics, transcriptomics, proteomics, metabolomics).

According to the authors of the article, the use of a multi-omics approach enables us to understand polar ecosystems, as well as adaptation to life in the cold. Like the polar bear, whose cardiovascular system has been modified to enable the animal’s body to tolerate the high serum cholesterol levels found in a high-fat diet necessary for survival. Image: Julia Hager

But why is it so important to establish such a roadmap? “There is strong evidence that climate-induced changes in the polar regions are already altering species distributions on land and in the sea, with major impacts on ecosystem function.”, notes Professor Mock. From species moving towards the poles, disrupting the food chain, to the destabilization of the Arctic jet stream with repercussions on the global climate, to the melting of permafrost and its consequences in terms of carbon release and even ancient pathogens, the changes at work in the polar regions will have repercussions elsewhere in the world.

As a reminder, the Southern Ocean is responsible for 40% of global oceanic uptake of anthropogenic CO2 and around 50% of total atmospheric uptake. The organisms that live there are probably responsible for the greatest natural negative feedback against climate change. In other words, they significantly absorb the CO2 released by our human activities.

Knowing more about these organisms and their role would bring benefits that, according to the authors, go far beyond biological knowledge of these organisms: “Understanding how lots of very strange organisms living in extreme cold can help answer globally questions and provide real benefits for society.”, notes Melody Clark, professor and Project Leader for the BAS. “Failure to act now will result in a substantial loss of knowledge regarding evolutionary adaptation to the cold.”

Link to article: Clark, M.S., Hoffman, J.I., Peck, L.S. et al. Multi-omics for studying and understanding polar life. Nat Commun 14, 7451 (2023).

Mirjana Binggeli, PolarJournal

More on the subject

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
error: Content is protected !!
Share This