Six Large Arctic Rivers' Bacteria May Reflect Climate Changes

CAMBRIDGE, Md., Nov. 25 (UPI) — U.S. scientists say bacteria in six large arctic river ecosystems might be used as markers for monitoring climate change in the polar region.

Researchers at the University of Maryland’s Horn Point Laboratory said their study of bacterial communities in the ecosystems reveals predictable temporal patterns showing the bacteria shifted synchronously over time, correlating with seasonal shifts in hydrology and biogeochemistry.

The researchers documented the patterns during a three-year, circumpolar study of planktonic bacterial communities in the six largest rivers of the pan-arctic watershed: the Ob’, Yenisey, Lena, Kolyma, Yukon and Mackenzie rivers.

“Our results demonstrate synchrony, seasonality and annual reassembly in planktonic bacterial communities occur on global scales,” said Associate Professor Byron Crump, lead author of the study. “Since bacterial communities in big arctic rivers shift predictably with circumpolar seasonal changes in environmental conditions, they may serve as sensitive indicators of climate change in the Arctic.”

The study’s co-author, Assistant Professor Rainer Amon of Texas A&M University, said the six river systems are comparable in size to the Mississippi River.

“One of the things we learned is the bacteria communities in all six of them seem to be very similar,” Amon said. “There are many questions still to be answered, such as how these bacteria communities might respond to a continued increase in temperature.”

The research appears in the early online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Copyright 2009 by United Press International

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