How climate warming influences the stability of microbial networks

A new study by researchers at the University of Oklahoma’s Institute for Environmental Genomics analyses the impacts of climate warming on the complexity and stability of microbial networks.

The goal of this new study is to provide critical insights to ecosystem management and project the ecological consequences of future climate warming. By developing reliable predictions of climate warming’s impact on microbial networks, world leaders can efficiently prepare for future pandemics and engineer new, disease-resistant crops.

To understand how climate warming affects microbial networks in soil, the research team examined temporal dynamics of soil microbial communities in a long-term experiment carried out in a tallgrass prairie ecosystem in central Oklahoma, USA.

Jizhong Zhou, IEG’s director, a George Lynn Cross Research Professor in the College of Arts and Sciences and an adjunct professor in the Gallogly College of Engineering, said: “Global climate change is one of the most profound anthropogenic disturbances to our planet. Climate warming can alter soil microbial community diversity, structure and activities, but it remains uncertain whether and how it impacts network complexity and its relationships to stability in microbial communities.”

The impact of climate change on microbes

The study’s findings have implications for projecting ecological consequences of future climate warming and for ecosystem management. Although climate warming has impacted decreased biodiversity and associated ecosystem functioning, this study suggests that the microbial community stability in the grassland ecosystem and the linked ecosystem functions could be less vulnerable as temperatures rise. These results suggest that preserving microbial ‘interactions’ is critical for ecosystem management and for projecting ecological consequences of future climate warming.

Zhou continued: “Our study provides explicit evidence that network complexity begets stability in microbial ecology. Molecular ecological networks under warming became significantly more robust, with network stability strongly correlated with network complexity, supporting the central ecological belief that complexity begets stability.”



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