U.S. Global Change Research Should Focus on Preparing for the Worst | National Academies

March 18th, 2021 @

MBL Distinguished Scientist Jerry Melillo chaired the National Academies committee that wrote this advisory report for the U.S. Global Change Research Program, which prepares the National Climate Assessments. Melillo was a leader of the National Climate Assessments released in 2000, 2009, and 2014.

WASHINGTON — As it drafts its next decadal strategic plan, the U.S. Global Change Research Program (USGCRP) should shift its focus to providing insights that help society prepare for and avoid the worst potential consequences of climate change, while protecting the most vulnerable, says a new report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.

Traditional climate research that projects changes in the natural environment to estimate potential consequences is not meeting the needs of decision-makers as they respond to the climate crisis, the report says.

Global Change Research Needs and Opportunities for 2022-2031 recommends USGCRP accelerate research on the multidirectional relationships among human and natural systems to advance our understanding of how to manage urgent current and future climate risks.Our food availability, for example, depends on a complex interaction between natural systems, such as the carbon and water cycles, and aspects of human systems, such as population growth or farming practices.The report calls on USGCRP to focus specifically on urgent climate risks to the security and well-being of Americans — including their health, food, energy, water, and economic security.

Risk management should emphasize protecting the most vulnerable and addressing the underlying drivers of vulnerability, particularly inequity and exclusion. …

“The time has come to urgently increase our country’s investment in global change research to produce knowledge that is more useful for decision-makers leading the response to the climate crisis,” said committee chair Jerry Melillo, distinguished scientist at the Marine Biological Laboratory. “Today’s decisions require research that considers the global, intricate relationship between society and the natural world, as well as the effects of our response to climate change.” Read more …

Source: U.S. Global Change Research Program Should Shift Focus to Preparing for and Avoiding Worst Potential Consequences of Climate Change, Says New Report | National Academies

Emil Ruff Receives Simons Early Career Investigator Award | The Well

March 15th, 2021 @
MBL’s Emil Ruff Receives Simons Early Career Investigator Award

Emil Ruff processing samples at Trunk River, Falmouth, MA. Photo: Elise Cowley

The Simons Foundation has selected MBL Assistant Scientist Emil Ruff for a 2021 Simons Early Career Investigator in Marine Microbial Ecology and Evolution Award.

This three-year award will fund continued research on novel lineages of Chlorobi, bacteria that Ruff previously sampled from Trunk River in Falmouth, Mass., and investigated with members of his lab and with students and faculty of the MBL’s Microbial Diversity course.

Members of the Chlorobi phylum, they discovered, are mostly responsible for the yellow microbial blooms that can be seen floating in the brackish Trunk River lagoon. This was a surprising discovery since Chlorobi generally do not grow in the presence of oxygen.

Finding them in mildly oxic waters led the researchers to examine the bloom microbes and their genomes more closely. This analysis suggested mutualistic interactions between the sulfur-oxidizing phototrophs and sulfur-reducing bacteria, which were co-enriched in the bloom layer.

These interactions, they propose, allow the oxygen-sensitive microbes to thrive in an otherwise unfavorable habitat.

During the Simons Award period, Ruff and colleagues will investigate the genomic, (eco)physiological and biochemical underpinnings of the involved organisms and interactions.

“A partnership that allows anaerobic organisms to thrive in a hypoxic water body has implications for our understanding of the evolution of the geo- and biosphere, as it may have been a mechanism for anaerobes to adapt to the oxidation of the atmosphere and oceans caused by the Great Oxidation Event,” Ruff proposes. “Building a partnership is much less costly and much faster than the de novo evolution of the necessary metabolic traits, and hence represents a strategy to quickly adapt to new conditions, including the environmental disturbances caused by global change.”

Sampling at Trunk River, Falmouth, MA. Photo: Rhys Probyn

Article from The Well

Edgartown Great Pond Partners with MBL | The Martha's Vineyard Times

February 22nd, 2021 @
By Brian DowdEdgartown Great Pond Partners with MBL | The Martha's Vineyard Times

The Edgartown Great Pond Foundation (GPF) is teaming up with the Woods Hole-based Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL) to support the foundation’s ecosystem monitoring program at Chilmark Pond, Edgartown Great Pond, and Tisbury Great Pond.

The scientific partnership will enhance the foundation’s existing programs on Edgartown Great Pond and its collaboration with the Chilmark Pond Foundation, as well as bolster a scientific alliance between GPF and Tisbury Great Pond stakeholders.

The Island’s three ponds are vital ecological resources, especially for shellfishing.

The foundation’s staff will monitor the three Island ponds on a weekly basis from May through October. Programs will include water quality monitoring, cyanobacteria monitoring, pond elevation and opening dynamics, submerged aquatic vegetation monitoring, biodiversity monitoring, and watershed nutrient loading

Founded in 1888, MBL is a scientific institution and pioneer in the study of coastal ecosystems. MBL Ecosystems Center Director and Senior Scientist Dr. Anne Giblin, an expert in nutrient cycling in wetland ecosystems, and Research Scientist Dr. Javier Lloret, an expert in the interactions between human activities and their impacts on coastal ecosystems, along with their team, will lead efforts to assess nutrient loading in three Island Great Ponds. Read more …

Source: Edgartown Great Pond partners with MBL – The Martha’s Vineyard Times

Wetlands and the MBL | The Well

February 1st, 2021 @

February 2 is World Wetlands Day—a day to raise awareness about the role wetlands play in the health of ecosystems around the world. At the Marine Biological Laboratory, scientists at our Ecosystems Center have been studying these vital ecosystems for more than 40 years.

This year’s World Wetlands Day theme, Wetlands and Water, highlights the value of freshwater wetlands as people around the globe face a freshwater crisis. Humans use more freshwater than nature can replenish and, at the same time, are systematically destroying freshwater wetland ecosystems.

“Wetlands are productive and vital ecosystems that enhance water quality, store carbon, maintain surface water flows, and can help control stream erosion,” said Anne Giblin, director of the MBL Ecosystems Center. “Freshwater wetlands are biologically diverse and support a large number of threatened and endangered species. Unfortunately, for centuries these areas were not valued and wetlands were filled and swamps were drained to ‘reclaim’ land.”

Marshes—both freshwater and saltwater—act as nurseries to a number of vital species and aid in the reduction of storm surge. They reduce nitrogen loads from land, helping to alleviate coastal eutrophication. With atmospheric carbon dioxide levels rising, wetland ecosystems, which store more carbon per area than almost any other ecosystem on earth, are more vital than ever.

Originally posted in The Well.

Seasons of the Microbiome Over the Amazon Rainforest | The Well

January 21st, 2021 @
Seasons of the Microbiome Over the Amazon Rainforest

Isabella Hrabe de Angelis on top of the Amazon Tall Tower Observatory north of Manaus, Brazil. Credit: Oliver Lauer

One may not think of the Earth’s atmosphere as “inhabited,” but it holds a multitude of suspended, biological particles (bioaerosols) that originate from bacteria, fungi, algae, plants and animals. Bioaerosols play an important role for ecosystems and the climate because they disperse microbes, influence radiation absorption, scatter sunlight, or nucleate cloud condensation. The diverse microbes living in bioaerosols are collectively called the aerosol microbiome.

The Amazon Basin, which harbors the world’s largest tropical forest, may contribute significantly to emissions of bioaerosols on a global scale. But little is known about how environmental variables affect bioaerosol composition in the Amazon. A new study led by scientists from the Universidade Federal do Paraná in Brazil (with MBL’s Emil Ruff collaborating) suggests that microbes in Amazon Basin bioaerosols originate mostly from leaf surfaces, not from the soil. Further, seasonal changes in temperature, relative humidity and precipitation are the primary drivers of compositional changes in this aerosol microbiome.

Isabella Hrabe de Angelis, a PhD student at the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry in Germany, supported the study with bioinformatic analyses of the Amazon microbiome data. (MBL scientist Zoe Cardon is on her doctoral committee.) As part of her work, Hrabe de Angelis participated in six field expeditions to the Amazon Tall Tower Observatory, a remote and pristine sampling site in the rainforest north of Manaus, Brazil.

The Amazon Tall Tower Observatory is 325 meters high and was built to study and monitor interactions between the rainforest and the atmosphere. Credit: Isabella Hrabe de Angelis


Felipe F.C. Souza et al (2021) Influence of seasonality on the aerosol microbiome of the Amazon rainforest. Science of the Total Environment, DOI: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2020.144092

Further info: https://www.attoproject.org/

Not All Nitrogen is Created Equal: A Long-Term Study from a New England Salt Marsh | The Well

December 11th, 2020 @

In a study published this week, scientists including MBL Ecosystems Center Director Anne Giblin reveal that different forms of nitrogen have different impacts on a salt marsh ecosystem. The study, conducted at the Plum Island Ecosystem LTER, argues that both the form and quantity of nitrogen influx to the coasts, and how these different forms of nitrogen mediate the balance between marsh carbon storage and loss, will be crucial for managing coastal wetlands as sea levels continue to rise. This article is provided by Northeastern University’s Marine Science Center.

On the cover of this month’s issue of BioScience, the tranquil scene of an evening in the tidal marsh belies the complex biological interplay of nutrients and organisms found within. The impacts and mechanisms of nutrient enrichment in this coastal zone, particularly of nitrogen introduced by human activity, are well documented in literature — but a new study in December’s BioScience suggests that understanding the forms of nitrogen in the system is a missing piece of the coastal management puzzle.

The study, led by Dr. Jennifer Bowen, Associate Professor and Associate Chair of the Northeastern’s Marine and Environmental Sciences Department, synthesizes a decade of research from her team and collaborators, focused on understanding human impacts on the structure and function of salt marsh systems. Dr. Bowen has long used the living labs of the Boston area coasts to examine how urban ecosystems and microbial communities influence biogeochemical cycling. Her latest work examines nitrogen forms and flows in the TIDE project, a long-term nutrient enrichment experiment led by co-author Linda Deegan of the Woodwell Climate Research Center that is based at the NSF supported Plum Island Long-Term Ecological Research site in northern Massachusetts. Co-author Anne Giblin of the Marine Biological Laboratory, Woods Hole, is lead principal investigator of the Plum Island research site. Read more …

Photo: Cordgrass in a salt marsh at the Plum Island research site. Credit: David Johnson @DavidSamJohnson

Cover photo: Jennifer Bowen of Northeastern University.

Source: Understanding Nitrogen’s Impact on Coastal Zones – Northeastern University College of Science

Originally posted on The Well

Moore Foundation Funds MBL Teams for Symbiosis Research | The Well

July 28th, 2020 @

The Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation’s Symbiosis in Aquatic Systems Initiative is investing $19 million over the next three years to support 42 teams of scientists, including four teams with MBL researchers, to collaboratively develop tools and methods to advance model systems in aquatic symbiosis. The Initiative’s funding aims to equip the scientific community with Moore Foundation Funds MBL Teams for Symbiosis Researchinfrastructure such as new genetic tools, cultivation methods, and nanoscale microscopy to improve experimental capabilities in aquatic symbiosis research over the coming decade. Read more about the initiative …

The MBL scientists funded in this grant include:

Project title: Underground Allies: Dynamic Interactions Among Cordgrass (Spartina alterniflora) and Sulfur-Cycling Microbes in the Rhizosphere
Principal Investigator: Zoe Cardon, MBL
Co-Investigators: Anne Giblin, Elena L. Peredo, Blair Paul, and Emil Ruff, MBL

Summary: Spartina alterniflora  is a native cordgrass dominating intertidal salt marsh platforms along thousands of miles of the U.S. East and Gulf coasts. The interaction among Spartina roots, sulfate reducing bacteria, and sulfur oxidizing bacteria is at the core of salt marsh health. We aim to establish a model system for understanding mechanisms underlying this symbiosis using plants and microbes isolated from the Plum Island Ecosystem Long Term Ecological Research site north of Boston. The Spartina root system and its associated sulfur-cycling microbes control an ecosystem-scale production, recycling and detoxification system, maintaining vast expanses of clonal Spartina that are crucibles for marine coastal life, and creating peat platforms critical for salt marsh persistence in the face of rising sea levels.

Read the complete story on The Well...

UMass Amherst Microbiologists Clarify Relationship Between Microbial Diversity and Soil Carbon Storage | UMass Amherst News

July 27th, 2020 @

More diverse soils did perform better, but drought stress found to be a limiting factor

In what they believe is the first study of its kind, researchers led by postdoctoral researcher Luiz A. Domeignoz-Horta and senior author Kristen DeAngelis at the University of Massachusetts Amherst report that shifts in the diversity of soil microbial communities can change the soil’s ability to sequester carbon, where it usually helps to regulate climate.

They also found that the positive effect of diversity on carbon use efficiency – which plays a central role in that storage – is neutralized in dry conditions. Carbon use efficiency refers to the carbon assimilated into microbial products vs carbon lost to the atmosphere as CO2 and contributing to climate warming, DeAngelis explains. Among other benefits, soil carbon makes soil healthy by holding water and helping plants grow.

She and colleagues addressed these questions because they point out, “empirical evidence for the response of soil carbon cycling to the combined effects of warming, drought and diversity loss is scarce.” To explore further, they experimentally manipulated microbial communities while varying factors such as microbe community species composition, temperature and soil moisture. Details are in Nature Communications.

In addition to first author Domeignoz-Horta and others at UMass Amherst, the team includes Serita Frey at the University of New Hampshire and Jerry Melillo at the Ecosystems Center, Woods Hole, Mass.

Read the complete story from the News Office at UMass, Amherst.

Desert Algae Shed Light on Desiccation Tolerance in Green Plants | The Well

July 10th, 2020 @


WOODS HOLE, Mass. — Deserts of the U.S. Southwest are extreme habitats for most plants, but, remarkably, microscopic green algae live there that are extraordinarily tolerant of dehydration. These tiny green algae (many just a few microns in size) live embedded in microbiotic soil crusts, which are characteristic of arid areas and are formed by communities of bacteria, lichens, microalgae, fungi, and even small mosses. After completely drying out, the algae can become active and start photosynthesizing again within seconds of receiving a drop of water.

Acutodesmus deserticola, a desert-derived green algae, grows in liquid culture at MBL. This alga’s cells are tiny but extremely resilient, capable of surviving multiple cycles of desiccation and rehydration in a single day. Credit: E.L. Peredo.

Acutodesmus deserticola, a desert-derived green algae, grows in liquid culture at MBL. This alga’s cells are tiny but extremely resilient, capable of surviving multiple cycles of desiccation and rehydration in a single day. Credit: E.L. Peredo.

How are they so resilient? That question is at the core of research by Elena Lopez Peredo and Zoe Cardon of the Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL), published this week in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Given the intensified droughts and altered precipitation patterns predicted as the global climate warms, understanding the adaptations that facilitate green plant survival in arid environments is pressing.

Working with two particularly resilient species of green microalgae (Acutodesmus deserticola and Flechtneria rotunda), Peredo and Cardon studied up- and down-regulation of gene expression during desiccation, and added a twist. They also analyzed gene expression in a close aquatic relative (Enallax costatus) as it dried out and ultimately died. Surprisingly, all three algae – desiccation tolerant or not – upregulated the expression of groups of genes known to protect even seed plants during drought. But the desiccation-tolerant algae also ramped down expression of genes coding for many other basic cellular processes, seemingly putting the brakes on their metabolism. The aquatic relative did not.

Peredo’s and Cardon’s research suggests this new perspective on desiccation tolerance warrants investigation in green plants more broadly. Upregulation of gene expression coding for protective proteins may be necessary but not sufficient; downregulation of diverse metabolic genes may also be key to survival.

Citation: Elena L. Peredo and Zoe G. Cardon (2020) Shared upregulation and contrasting downregulation of gene expression distinguish desiccation tolerant from intolerant green algae. PNAS, doi: 10.1073/pnas.1906904117

Homepage photo: Desiccation-tolerant green microalgae are frequently found in the microbiotic crusts covering soil in arid areas, such as the deserts of the Southwestern U.S.A. (Credit: Z.G. Cardon).


The Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL) is dedicated to scientific discovery – exploring fundamental biology, understanding marine biodiversity and the environment, and informing the human condition through research and education. Founded in Woods Hole, Massachusetts in 1888, the MBL is a private, nonprofit institution and an affiliate of the University of Chicago.

Originally posted on The Well.

New DOE Award | Sticky Roots and the Fate of Soil Carbon in Natural Ecosystems

June 30th, 2020 @

MBL Ecosystems Center Senior Scientist Zoe Cardon has received a collaborative grant from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) to study "sticky roots" and the fate of soil carbon in natural ecosystems. This grant was one of nine funded under the DOE Environmental Systems Science Program aimed at improving the understanding of watersheds, wetlands, and other terrestrial environments.  The official press release may be found on the Office of Science website.

Grass roots grown in soil, ready for imaging. (Zoe Cardon)

Grass roots grown in soil, ready for imaging. [Photo credit: Zoe Cardon]

Human activities are driving increasing concentrations of CO2 in the atmosphere, and the resulting climate change is becoming more and more obvious. But there are natural mechanisms operating in ecosystems that can transform atmospheric CO2 into organic forms and store it in soil long-term. In particular, that organic matter can become bound to soil minerals, where it can remain protected for millennia. Such long-term protection has great value to humans as climate change looms. However, the growth of living plants and soil microbes may depend on accessing nutrients trapped in the mineral-associated organic matter. In this DOE-funded work, Cardon (MBL), Keiluweit (UMass Amherst), Malmstrom (MSU), and Riley (LBNL) are using experiments and modeling to examine mechanisms by which plant roots and their associated microbes can dislodge organic matter from soil minerals, making nutrients available for recycling supporting new growth, but also making carbon vulnerable to re-release to the atmosphere as CO2.

Switchgrass growing at the MBL Research Greenhouse in root imaging boxes. [Photo credit: Zoe Cardon]

Switchgrass growing at the MBL Research Greenhouse in root imaging boxes. (Zoe Cardon)

A novel twist of the planned work lies in the aboveground treatment through which the researchers will test belowground ecosystem function: controlled viral infection of plants. Viral infection strongly affects the types and amounts of compounds released by plant roots, and Cardon and colleagues hypothesize that some of those compounds can dislodge stored organic matter from minerals. Since viral infection of plants is widespread in terrestrial ecosystems (with 25-70% of plants commonly infected), this new work promises to build knowledge about a prevalent, natural phenomenon with large potential to affect the productivity of ecosystems and the fate of large reserves of carbon stored in soil.


Mailing Address

The Ecosystems Center
7 MBL Street
Woods Hole, MA 02543-1015

Physical Address

CV Starr Environmental Laboratory
11 Albatross Street
Woods Hole, MA

Support Us

Support the Ecosystems Center with a gift to the MBL Annual Fund!