Microbial Ecology and Biogeochemistry in the Anthropocene Sea

There are a million microorganisms in a drop of water, and we have only a limited understanding of what these organisms do: what they ‘eat,’ how they survive, or how they interact.  However, we do know that the collective activities of these tiny cells drive global cycles of biologically‑essential elements such as nitrogen and carbon, and that global biogeochemical cycles have been subsequently altered by human activities.  The overarching goal of our research is to connect these two perspectives by developing a predictive understanding of microbial ecology and biogeochemistry in rapidly changing aquatic ecosystems.  We try to figure out: (1) what microbes can ‘do’ and how they do it; (2) how they interact with each other; (3) how this can change; and (4) what the implications are.

To achieve this, we use techniques ranging from automated sampling, to stable isotope biogeochemistry, to large ‘omic datasets generated via DNA and RNA sequencing.  We apply these to model ecosystems, experimental manipulations, and environmental gradients within the eastern tropical North Pacific ocean, ‘marine lakes’ in the islands of Palau, and freshwater lakes in the Sierra Nevada.  We seek to understand linkages and feedbacks among microbial communities and the biogeochemical processes that they mediate, and to determine how microbial communities and biogeochemical processes may be altered by (or resilient to) ocean deoxygenation, ocean acidification, pollution, and climate change.

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