Polar Aquatic Microbial Ecology

Project Description
Short Title: PAME
Project URL: http://www.uib.no/pame/
Proposal URL: http://classic.ipy.org/development/eoi/proposal-details.php?id=71

Microbial communities, including phytoplankton, protozoa, bacteria, archaea, fungi and virus, are by far the most abundant and the most taxonomic and genetically diverse group of organisms in marine pelagic ecosystems. Biological activity, biomass, production and remineralization in these systems are essentially microbial while higher trophic levels (crustaceans, fish, and mammals) play a minor role in quantitative terms. Microorganisms are the main drivers of biogeochemical cycles and the major producers and consumers of green-house gases, and they are therefore significant players in regulating the ecosphere. In addition, they can be important sentinels of environmental change, as alterations in the structure and biomass of microbial communities can herald changes not only in pathways of nutrient and energy transfer in foodwebs, but also in biogeochemical cycles. Despite their abundance and likely importance in polar ecosystems, very little is known about the composition of polar microbial communities, their interactions and geochemical roles, or their response to environmental changes.

The PAME program will focus on polar marine microorganisms and their activities; the processes that relate to these organisms and the significance of these organisms and their activity with respect to climate and global environmental change. The projects participating in PAME will target different aspects of microbial ecology in different polar areas. Projects may also encompass studies undertaken in warmer latitudes where these compliment and inform polar research. Field campaigns, logistics and research will be coordinated through PAME, and the projects will share and exchange data, samples, field opportunities, infrastructure, human and intellectual resources in order to obtain better and more complete datasets from field surveys and experimental studies than otherwise would be possible.
Understanding microbial food web structure and function involves major research tasks related to community composition, population dynamics and flux of energy and matter.

PAME will assess microbial biodiversity and community composition employing a full range of approaches from classical taxonomic studies to metagenomics of community DNA. The work will include development and application of state-of-the-art molecular methods to detect, enumerate and monitor sentinel ("indicator") microbial genes, functions and taxa, and to determine the molecular biodiversity of key microbial groups. Population dynamics, trophic interactions and flow of energy and matter between different microbial compartments and biogeochemical pools will be investigated both during field campaigns and in experimental ecosystem models (mesocosms). Experimental approaches to climate and environmental change, as well as mathematical modelling, will be integral parts of this work. The overriding aim is to understand how external and internal driving forces and control mechanisms regulate microbial processes and how they affect community structure and biogeochemical cycles.