Study: In Wake of Hurricane, Microbial Ecosystem Remarkably Resilient


After sustaining seemingly catastrophic hurricane damage, a primordial groundcover vital to sustaining a multitude of coastal lifeforms bounced back to life in a matter of months.

The finding, co-led by a Johns Hopkins University geochemist and published in Science Advances, offers rare optimism for the fate of one of Earth's most critical ecosystems as climate change alters the global pattern of intense storms.

"The good news is that in these types of environments, there are these mechanisms that can play an important role in stabilizing the ecosystem because they recover so quickly," said Maya Gomes, a Johns Hopkins assistant professor of Earth & Planetary Sciences. "What we saw is that they just started growing again and that means that, as we continue to have more hurricanes because of climate change, these ecosystems will be relatively resilient."

The team, co-led by California Institute of Technology and University of Colorado, Boulder, researchers, had been studying microbial mats in Little Ambergris Cay, an uninhabited island in Turks and Caicos. Microbial mats are squishy, spongey ecosystems that for eons have sustained a diverse array of life from the microscopic organisms that make a home in the upper oxygenated layers to the mangroves it helps root and stabilize. Mats in turn provide habitats for even more species and can be found all over the world in wildly different environments. The variety this team studied are commonly found in tropical, saltwater-oriented places—exactly the coastal locations most vulnerable to severe storms.

Read more at: Johns Hopkins University

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