In a recently published study in FEMS Microbiology Ecology, scientists shed light on the changing roles of microbes in ecosystems due to global warming. It is now well-known that a majority of microbes are infected by viruses, but our understanding of how these viral infections may impact microbial responses to warming is still limited.
The study outlines numerous ways in which increasing temperatures could affect viruses and their microbial hosts, potentially influencing entire ecosystems’ responses to warming. Identifying these effects highlights crucial knowledge gaps that need to be addressed to comprehend and predict the repercussions of climate change on ecosystems.
By providing a roadmap for understanding the various ways viruses could modify the effects of warming on microbial communities, this study emphasizes the significant role viruses play in microbial processes and ecosystem functioning. Incorporating these previously overlooked effects into ecosystem models will enhance scientists’ ability to predict how ecosystems might respond to climate change.
Microorganisms are vital in ecosystems as they regulate energy and matter flow through essential processes like photosynthesis, respiration, and decomposition. Climate change is currently altering ecosystem functioning by influencing the operations of organisms within microbial food webs. Although scientists acknowledge the substantial impacts viruses can have on microbial processes, their understanding of how these impacts will change with future warming remains limited.
Researchers from Duke University, the University of Tennessee Knoxville, the Netherlands Institute of Ecology, and Oak Ridge National Laboratory collaborated on this study, reviewing the potential impacts of warming on viruses and how they might alter our understanding of ecosystem responses to climate change. The effects of warming likely extend to various stages of the viral infection cycle and virus-host dynamics. However, many knowledge gaps still exist concerning these effects.
As viruses are ubiquitous in all habitats and have profound effects on microbial functioning, filling these gaps becomes crucial in comprehending the flow of energy and matter within ecosystems as they respond to warming. Preliminary models developed by the researchers suggest that viruses could potentially disrupt natural carbon balances, causing ecosystems to shift from being net carbon sources to net carbon sinks. This study highlights the importance of incorporating viruses into predictive models to uncover new and unexpected ecosystem effects resulting from climate change.
Source: US Department of Energy