Freshwater Food Webs in the Face of Shorter Winters and Earlier Springs

Principal Investigator(s): 

Elizabeth Wolkovich

Changing climate has brought earlier springs and later winters to most of the world, with many animal and plant communities responding. Each species in an ecological community may be more or less tolerant of warmer temperatures, or other environmental changes, and entire food webs may shift s individual species respond to these changes. In many different ecosystems, a food web that exists during winter -under ice or snow-can provide food resources that are critical for species that begin to grow early in the warm season. For example, in high-mountain communities, under-snow soil food webs provide an important pulse of nutrients to summer plant communities that begin to emerge in spring.

In marine waters surrounding Antarctica under-ice plankton, microscopic plants and animals at the base of aquatic food webs, supply food to the nearby open ocean. In the world's deepest, most ancient lake, Lake Baikal, under-ice development of plankton similarly supports food webs that develop as the ice is receding in the spring, and as temperatures continue to warm. Such links may be disrupted with climate change, as winter food webs have less time to develop and spring communities establish increasingly earlier.

Using several long-term, year-round plankton datasets this working group will study how climate may alter these cross-seasonal links in freshwater food webs. Datasets include a 60-year record of plankton in Lake Baikal, faithfully maintained by three generations of one Siberian family and currently carried on by Lyubov Izmest'eva (Irkutsk State University, Russia). In addition to providing basic knowledge on how separate food webs linked in time and space may influence ecosystem stability, this research may allow us to predict responses to changing climate by entire food webs.

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