Terrestrial Systems

Current research projects (2019-2024)

The distinct and threatened core microbial genetic potential of the Arctic’s Last Ice Area

The “Last Ice Area” (LIA) is a region of the oldest and thickest ice in the Arctic, and the LIA and its surrounding habitats (glaciers, ice-capped lakes, permafrost) are a refuge for unique microbial ice-dependent species. This area’s habitats and the microbes they harbor are heavily impacted by warming and increasingly threatened by climate change. It is therefore urgent to better understand these microbial communities and how they underpin ecosystem function in the North. Here, we propose to examine an existing dataset of 240 metagenomes, collected over the last 5 years in the LIA, from diverse habitats (marine, lacustrine, cryospheric, aerosol). This massive dataset includes diverse microorganisms that are poorly understood, whose genomes can help us better predict how Arctic ecosystems will respond to future change. Our goal is to provide an integrated, transdisciplinary analyses of the microbial ecology of this dynamic area of the Canadian Arctic. We will do this by recruiting a computational biologist to conduct a meta-analysis of all our available data, to address three specific knowledge gaps: 1. the core microbial functions of the LIA; 2. the role of microbial bioaerosols in the warming Arctic; and 3. the risk of these unique polar microbes going extinct. We will provide tools for Inuit and federal organizations in developing conservation policies (within the Marine Tuvaijuittq Protected Area), and provide crucial data to understand these organisms, in partnership with international partners (Joint Genome Institute [US], Museum of Natural History [UK]) and global endeavors on climate change (Tara Oceans, TMOSAiC).