Warming climate threatens microbes in alpine streams, new research shows

Warming climate threatens microbes in alpine streams, new research shows
UW research scientist Lusha Tronstad collects samples from the Wind Cave alpine stream on the western side of the Tetons in the Targhee National Forest. The source of the stream is underground ice in the mountain. Credit: Joe Giersch

Changes to alpine streams fed by glaciers and snowfields due to a warming climate threaten to dramatically alter the types of bacteria and other microbes in those streams, according to a research team that included a University of Wyoming scientist.

But streams that are fed by underground ice insulated by rock—called "icy seeps"—offer some hope that the impact of climate change will be less severe in some areas, say the researchers, who include Lusha Tronstad, research scientist with UW's Wyoming Natural Diversity Database (WYNDD).

"Our results show that patterns of microbial diversity support an ominous trend for alpine stream biodiversity...," the researchers wrote in the journal Global Change Biology. "Icy seeps, however, represent a source of optimism for the future of biodiversity in these imperiled ecosystems."

Tronstad is an expert on the alpine streams in Grand Teton National Park, where her 2015 discovery of a rare insect called the western glacier stonefly provided information to assist in deciding whether the species should be protected under the federal Endangered Species Act. In the latest research, she joined scientists from the University of Kentucky, Washington State University, Rutgers University, Kansas State University, Missouri State University, the University of Montana and the U.S. Geological Survey to study much smaller organisms in those Grand Teton streams and others in Montana's Glacier National Park.

In those high-mountain streams—some fed by glaciers, some by snowfields, some by underground ice and some by groundwater—a wide variety of bacteria and other microbes exist. They provide the foundation for larger organisms such as insects in alpine waters and fish downstream.

Warming climate threatens microbes in alpine streams, new research shows
UW research scientist Lusha Tronstad takes notes while conducting research downstream of Petersen Glacier in Grand Teton National Park. Credit: Scott Hotaling

In Wyoming, North America's Rocky Mountains and mountain ranges worldwide, glaciers and perennial snowfields are shrinking and, in some cases, disappearing as the climate warms. While previous research detailed expected impacts on insects and other larger species, Tronstad's research team examined the organisms that can't be seen with the naked eye in six alpine streams in Grand Teton and seven in Glacier National Park.

The scientists found that colder streams fed by glaciers and underground ice have less microbial diversity than those fed by snowmelt and groundwater, but the colder streams are home to some bacteria that don't exist in the warmer streams. As and reduced snowfields and glaciers increase water temperatures and change the flow and variability of the streams, microbial diversity will decline across the alpine waters, the researchers say. That likely will result in broader environmental impacts—though the scientists acknowledge that "the degree to which environmental shifts will translate to altered ecosystem functioning remains largely unknown."

While the new research expands understanding of microbial diversity across the range of alpine streams, the scientists say the most significant new insights relate specifically to icy seeps, which are fed by rock glaciers—masses of underground ice surrounded by rocky debris. It's estimated there are more than 10,000 of these rock glaciers across the United States—about double the number of surface glaciers and perennial snowfields. Icy seeps are closest in temperature to streams fed by surface glaciers, with less seasonal flow variability. One such underground-ice-fed stream that was part of the study originates from Wind Cave in the Targhee National Forest.

Because they're insulated by thick layers of rock, icy seeps may be more buffered against warming atmospheric conditions than glaciers and perennial snowfields, making them less susceptible to climate change.

"Consequently, there is strong potential for icy seeps to serve as (a refuge) for cold-adapted mountain stream species and unique ecological functions on a global scale," the researchers wrote, adding that icy seeps "may represent the last stronghold of meltwater-associated (life forms) in a landscape without and perennial snowfields."


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Small alpine insects are big messengers of climate change

More information: Scott Hotaling et al, Microbial assemblages reflect environmental heterogeneity in alpine streams, Global Change Biology (2019). DOI: 10.1111/gcb.14683
Journal information: Global Change Biology

Citation: Warming climate threatens microbes in alpine streams, new research shows (2019, May 16) retrieved 21 May 2019 from https://phys.org/news/2019-05-climate-threatens-microbes-alpine-streams.html
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May 16, 2019
Please explain what is "threatened" and why this is "ominous"? These scientists behave as if the planet has never been warmer, which is not true even within the era of human history, Peak Heat being about 8000 years ago. Chicken Little has nothing on these willfully myopic folks who fear change as if change were something unknown on Earth. Please. And for those following along at home, ice is not normal on Earth; the planet has been ice-free for most of its history. So what they fear is actually a return to Normal, the climate of, say, 1 million years ago. You know, when there was no ice and everything died off (except for everything that didn't, which was mostly everything).

Keep your wits about you. The idea is to scare you into accepting $8/gallon gasoline to "save the planet." It's about raising revenue and lowering population, and both are fine but not if accomplished thru subterfuge.

May 16, 2019
@Anonym.
Chicken Little has nothing on these willfully myopic folks who fear change as if change were something unknown on Earth. Please. And for those following along at home, ice is not normal on Earth; the planet has been ice-free for most of its history. So what they fear is actually a return to Normal, the climate of, say, 1 million years ago. You know, when there was no ice and everything died off (except for everything that didn't, which was mostly everything).
If you are not just another Russian-bot/stooge/troll, then please inform yourself of the whole picture and not just mouth simplistic assertions. If longstanding co-evolved cold-adapted ecosystems are disrupted by warming, then warm-adapted insect/bacterial/fungal disease/pest will decimate it; and your fish/plant, water/food, sources. I suggest you learn more about the whole/complex subject before you again stupidly ignore science/facts which all reasonably informed folks already acknowledge. :)

May 16, 2019
If you are not just another Russian-bot/stooge/troll,


You insane fool.

May 17, 2019
Warming kooks get it all wrong, all the time. Water predictions are just as bad from them cite:
"Water Levels of the Great Lakes Are Declining. The Great Lakes share a surprising connection with Wisconsin's small lakes and aquifers — their water levels all rise and fall on a 13-year cycle, according to a new study. ... "Our lakes have never been lower than they are."Jan 21, 2019"

Guess what? Lake Ontario levels just reached a record high.

May 17, 2019
@Old_C_Code.
@Anonym,
If you are not just another Russian-bot/stooge/troll,


You insane fool.
How many times in recent years has your attention been drawn to reality as exposed in various linked reports about the now-well-proven existence of such troll-factories carrying out social/political disruptive/divisive agendas in foreign countries, mate?

Anyhow, you can add yet another linked report to that subject:

https://www.abc.n.../9473242

So please in future inform yourself of the reality/facts before insulting those who have your best interests at heart (as a fellow human being) and bringing you up to date with the troll-factory saga. Good luck to us all.

May 18, 2019
I don't understand why people are so concerned about global climate change that might raise the ocean level by one foot over a hundred years, but they are so eager to change everything through social engineering and trying to eliminate all of our traditions and bring huge technological change which everyone is having a horrible time adapting to.

May 18, 2019
@grandpa.
I don't understand why people are so concerned about global climate change that might raise the ocean level by one foot over a hundred years, but they are so eager to change everything through social engineering and trying to eliminate all of our traditions and bring huge technological change which everyone is having a horrible time adapting to.
Social 'engineering' has been part of the 'social evolution' of humans since they became capable of science/technology which added to the 'natural' environmental adaptation drivers. And climate change on the scale of what is happening now and trending longterm is NOT 'natural' either! It is man-made and even more dangerous than previous 'social/scientific' evolutionary developments. We have been 'adapting to' incremental science/tech/social changes, BUT climate change to the extremes under way (during current transition from 'tolerable' to 'intolerable') is NOT something we can readily 'adapt to' en-masse as a species.

May 19, 2019
How many times in recent years has your attention been drawn to reality as exposed in various linked reports about the now-well-proven existence of such troll-factories


You appear mildy insane too. So the theory is Russia wants a warmer climate right? Makes sense. heh

May 19, 2019
Reality Check,

I just don't buy what the global climate change people are selling. It is clear that CO2 levels are going up fast, but battery use for autos, photovoltaic use, and wind mill use are going up much faster and will clearly take over the CO2 race within a decade, even if there is absolutely no government action. How about you and I have a wager. Maybe for dinner for our families in eleven years. I predict we will have our first down year in CO2 levels before eleven years are up.

May 19, 2019
Old_C_Code.
your attention been drawn to reality as exposed in various linked reports about the now-well-proven existence of such troll-factories
You appear mildy insane too. So the theory is Russia wants a warmer climate right? Makes sense. heh
Putin and the rest of the oligarchs making their foreign hard-currency via fossil fuels sales abroad don't give a shite about the climate or you and your family's future as long as the money keeps rolling in for those bastards who would sell their grandmothers for a 'hard dollar'. Russian troll-factories are merely seeding/gulling you and other 'weaponised stupids' in US etc for political gain via political/social division/chaos in western democracies. Moreover, those wishing for warmer weather in that region will find nasty surprises if they get it (melting permafrost ruins transportation systems; frequent unseasonal melting/freezing/storms/frosts/floods/droughts/pests/diseases ruins agriculture/health etc). Not good.

May 19, 2019
@grandpa.
I just don't buy what the global climate change people are selling. It is clear that CO2 levels are going up fast, but battery use for autos, photovoltaic use, and wind mill use are going up much faster and will clearly take over the CO2 race within a decade, even if there is absolutely no government action. How about you and I have a wager. Maybe for dinner for our families in eleven years. I predict we will have our first down year in CO2 levels before eleven years are up.
Your optimism is misplaced, mate. Population increase, and rogue nations sabotaging international efforts towards CO2 reduction overall, means CO2 will be increasing for one or two decades more...which is what we need to forestall by greater action now; because this 'transition' period ushers in instabilities which unleash even larger CO2 emissions from long-naturally-sequestered CO2/Methane in ocean/land clathrates/hydrates. Once that triggers 'tipping point' we are 'cooked'. Not good.

May 19, 2019
Your optimism is misplaced, mate. Population increase, and rogue nations sabotaging international efforts towards CO2 reduction overall, means CO2 will be increasing for one or two decades more...which is what we need to forestall by greater action now; because this 'transition' period ushers in instabilities which unleash even larger CO2 emissions from long-naturally-sequestered CO2/Methane in ocean/land clathrates/hydrates. Once that triggers 'tipping point' we are 'cooked'. Not good. control of people never works. Look at the recent war on drugs in the US. Scientists and Engineers are developing other low cost alternatives to oil and coal. No need for draconian evil empire enforcement. Yes overpopulation is a problem. It is a sad reality that results in horrible armageddon's. I also think rogue scientists will invent microbes to destroy our food supply ushering in famine disease and war.

May 20, 2019
@grandad.
Your optimism is misplaced, mate. Population increase, and rogue nations sabotaging international efforts towards CO2 reduction overall, means CO2 will be increasing for one or two decades more...which is what we need to forestall by greater action now; because this 'transition' period ushers in instabilities which unleash even larger CO2 emissions from long-naturally-sequestered CO2/Methane in ocean/land clathrates/hydrates. Once that triggers 'tipping point' we are 'cooked'.
control of people never works. Look at the recent war on drugs in the US. Scientists and Engineers are developing other low cost alternatives to oil and coal. No need for draconian evil empire enforcement. Yes overpopulation is a problem.
The problem NOW is, we're running out of time to prevent 'tipping point'. If we hadn't had decades of sabotage/delays by GOP/Russian/Fossil industry lies/corruption, we would have been further along towards averting 'tipping point' stage.

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