As bacteria adapt to hotter temperatures, they speed up their respiration rate and release more carbon, potentially accelerating climate change.
By releasing more carbon as global temperatures rise, bacteria and related organisms called archaea could increase climate warming at a faster rate than current models suggest. The new research, published today in Nature Communications by scientists from Imperial College London, could help inform more accurate models of future climate warming.
Bacteria and archaea, collectively known as prokaryotes, are present on every continent and make up around half of global biomass – the total weight of all organisms on Earth.
Most prokaryotes perform respiration that uses energy and releases carbon dioxide – just like we do when we breathe out. The amount of carbon dioxide released during a given time period depends on the prokaryote’s respiration rate, which can change in response to temperature.
However, the exact relationship between temperature, respiration rate and carbon output has been uncertain. Now, by bringing together a database of respiration rate changes according to temperature from 482 prokaryotes, researchers have found the majority will increase their carbon output in response to higher temperatures to a greater degree than previously thought.
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