Not Even Bacteria Are Safe from Climate Change

They’re a canary in a coal mine for greater damage.
December 23, 2016, 5:18pm
Image: NIAID/Wikimedia

Climate change has started to touch every living thing, and not even bacteria are immune from its effects.

The Earth's warmer environment is killing off some of the world's microbiological diversity, some of which acts as warning signals for greater environmental impacts in their ecosystems, according to a study published this week in Nature Communications. Since microbes make up the foundation of any food chain, any major impact to them might trickle down through the food chain and could impact entire ecosystems.


The study looked at bacteria and other microbes in various ecosystems, including harsh ones like high-elevation areas or frozen tundras. It found that microbes in icy environments were similar to ones in mountainous tropical regions. This suggests changes in temperature and other impacts are causing some types of microbes to die off, reducing the Earth's microbial diversity.

"We've historically studied birds, mammals and plants, but we know very little about biotechnology of microbes," said Janne Soininen, a study author from the University of Helsinki in a statement.

Figuring out how temperature changes and the increase in nutrients in water from climate change can help scientists understand how climate change will affect the very building blocks of certain ecosystems, a release announcing the study stated.

"The typically austere, i.e. nutrient-poor, waters in the north, for example, are extremely susceptible to temperature variations, and as the climate warms up, species that have adapted to the cold will decline."

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