A Climatic Crystal Ball: How Changes in Ancient Soil Microbes Could Predict the Future of the Arctic


The changing balance of microorganisms in Arctic soil due to climate change could have widespread effects, says new study.

Microbial communities in Arctic permafrost changed drastically at the end of the ice age—and this shift could happen again due to modern climate change, according to a new study by University of Alberta scientists.

In this study, researchers compared the microbial communities found in permafrost formed during the last Ice Age, at the end of the geological epoch known as the Pleistocene, to those at the beginning of the modern era, known as the Holocene.

“We found that both the microbial communities and the chemical parameters are stable within each era until they cross a threshold, driven by the change in climate,” explained Brian Lanoil, associate professor in the Department of Biological Sciences and co-author on the study. “After that threshold, there is an abrupt switch to a new microbial community and new soil chemistry. We argue that modern climate change could lead to a similar transition in state for soils in Arctic ecosystems with unknown consequences.”

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Image via University of Alberta