Microscopic plant- and animal-like plankton are the first links in aquatic food chains. This project will study the planktonic food web of the world’s largest, oldest, and most biologically diverse lake – Lake Baikal in Siberia – to predict how native vs. non-native plankton will respond to accelerating environmental change in this system.
Human-induced global change is altering most ecosystems on Earth. How ecosystems will respond greatly depends on their biodiversity: genetic diversity may allow populations to adapt to change and functional diversity allows different species to carry out many different ‘jobs’ in the ecosystem, increasing its resilience. The exact mechanisms of how different dimensions of biodiversity determine ecosystem responses to global change are, however, poorly understood. An interdisciplinary team of researchers will use 60 years of unique ecological data, extensive field sampling, genetic analyses, laboratory experiments and novel mathematical models to examine for the first time multiple aspects of biodiversity in the largest, oldest and most biodiverse lake in the world – Lake Baikal in Siberia – and to predict how this ecosystem will respond to accelerating environmental change. Lake Baikal’s planktonic food web (microscopic algae and zooplankton) fuels the rest of Baikal’s incredibly diverse biota and is dominated by endemic species that are extremely sensitive to rising temperatures and other anthropogenic stressors. We will determine if the genetic and functional diversity in the endemic species will allow them to adapt and persist in the changing climate or whether the lake’s unique food web will collapse and be replaced by widely distributed (cosmopolitan) species, which may have dramatic consequences for the entire ecosystem, including the world’s only freshwater seal.
Holding 20% of world’s unfrozen fresh water, this UNESCO World Heritage Site is recognized internationally as a globally important freshwater resource, a treasure trove of biodiversity and a unique natural laboratory to study evolution. With an unprecedented diversity of endemic species found nowhere else, Lake Baikal serves as a model for ecosystems with highly unique biota and cold aquatic environments undergoing rapid warming.
Elena G. Litchman and Christopher A. Klausmeier, Michigan State University (NSF 1136710)
Stephanie E. Hampton, University of California, Santa Barbara (NSF 1136637)
Marianne Moore, Wellesley College (NSF 1136657)
Edward C. Theriot, University of Texas, Austin (NSF 1136667)
Lev Yampolsky, East Tennessee State University (NSF 1136706)