Short Name:
NSF-ANT08-38830

Photoheterotrophic Microbes in the West Antarctic Peninsula Marine Ecosystem

Light quality and availability are likely to change in polar ecosystems as ice coverage and thickness decrease. How microbes adjust to these and other changes will have huge impacts on the polar marine ecosystems. Little is known about photoheterotrophic prokaryotes, which are hypothesized to gain a metabolic advantage by harvesting light energy in addition to utilizing dissolved organic matter (DOM). Photoheterotrophy is not included in current models of carbon cycling and energy flow. This research will examine three questions: 1. Are photoheterotrophic microbes present and active in Antarctic waters in winter and summer? 2. Does community structure of photoheterotrophs shift between summer and winter? 3. Which microbial groups assimilate more DOM in light than in the dark? The research will test hypotheses about activity of photoheterotrophs in winter and in summer, shifts in community structure between light and dark seasons and the potentially unique impacts of photoheterotrophs on biogeochemical processes in the Antarctic. The project will directly support a graduate student, will positively impact the NSF REU program at the College of Marine and Earth Studies, and will include students from the nation's oldest historical minority college. The results will be featured during weekly tours of Lewes facilities (about 1000 visitors per year) and during Coast Day, an annual open-house that attracts about 10,000 visitors.

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