In this recently published ISME Journal Commentary, the international group of scientists describe the potential impact of microbes transforming soil organic matter (SOM) released from thawing permafrost in high-latitude ecosystems. Microbial communities degrade SOM in the active layer, controlling the quantities and mixtures of greenhouse gases (CO2 and CH4) produced and their feedback on climate change. Thawing may lead to changes in community composition and enzyme production, as well as increased rates of SOM turnover. These changes could alter temperature sensitivities of carbon cycle processes in land models. Systems biology (e.g., metagenomics adn metaproteomics) can measure microbial responses to environmental change, help infer the quality of SOM, and improve climate prediction through process understanding.
Graham, D. E., M. D. Wallenstein, T. A. Vishnivetskaya, M. P. Waldrop, T. J. Phelps, S. M. Pfiffner, T. C. Onstott, L. G. Whyte, E. M. Rivkina, D. A. Gilichinsky, D. A. Elias, R. Mackelprang, N. C. VerBerkmoes, R. L. Hettich, D. Wagner, S. D. Wullschleger, and J. K. Jansson. 2011. Microbes in thawing permafrost: the unknown variable in the climate change equation. ISME J. doi:10.1038/ismej.2011.163