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New Zealand microbe tests offer hope for Antarctic food chain as climate changes

English.news.cn   2014-06-11 10:07:48

WELLINGTON, June 11 (Xinhua) -- Microbes from the Antarctic and subantarctic Southern Ocean can withstand significant temperature rises, offering hope for their ability to adapt to global climate change and the survival of other species, New Zealand scientists said Wednesday.

Incubation experiments by Victoria University biologists indicated that microalgae and bacteria from the bottom of the food chain could prove "relatively robust" as the sea ice around Antarctica melted, said Dr. Andrew Martin.

In one experiment, light-dependant microalgae that normally grew at minus 2 degrees centigrade were incubated in the dark at 4 degrees.

"They were completely fine. It was only when we got to unrealistic temperatures of 10 degrees that we saw a decline in performance," Martin said in a statement.

Microbes were crucial to the survival of many species because they were the start of the food chain in the ocean.

"Penguins, whales and seals make up very little of the overall organic matter in the ocean. If you took everything out of the Southern Ocean and put it on scales, 95 percent would be microbes, " said Martin.

Although algae were extremely tolerant, the effect on the future of Antarctic wildlife was still a mystery as the human impact on the environment and increased amounts of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere would make conditions more challenging.

"We know there will be less sea ice in the future, and that may actually lead to more microbes in the open water. Although there' ll potentially be a larger food resource, it won't be concentrated. In Antarctica it's all about aggregations -- if a food resource isn't easily accessible, an ecosystem can become unbalanced."

Editor: Yang Yi
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