Author Archives: Krista Bonfantine

The Stream Microbiome: An Ecosystem’s Health Report Card

Image Credit: mstk east, CC BY 2.0, Image Cropped

Thanks to DNA sequencing, there is no escape from the reality that every organism is an ecosystem. I like to think of myself as an individual human organism but actually, I am a holobiont, playing host to thousands of other species. Back in college, my body was an ecosystem in distress. A diet of coffee, beer, and bagels coupled with a steady dip of stress led to a series of health issues and an eventual diagnosis of ‘dysbiosis’. Dysbiosis is a term that describes a loss of microbial biodiversity or departure from a balanced ecology.

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The Elusive Climax

Image Credit: ForestWander.com CC BY-SA 3.0 US, Image Cropped

Somewhere in my education, I distinctly remember a video that explained ecosystem succession moving towards a climax condition. The film depicted the gradual filling of a lake and subsequent encroachment of saplings as the system aged towards its inevitable end as a hardwood forest in the eastern United States. I remember thinking even then, “but where do lakes come from?” I couldn’t work out how there could be a mosaic of habitats if there was a steady progression towards a single endpoint.

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Feeding the Flames

When I recently set out to see what science has to say about the likelihood of more giant fires in the western U.S and Australia, I found repeated predictions of deep droughts and epic fires. Don’t worry, instead of explaining the sad science of chronic presses and acute pulses, anomalies, chronologies, and trajectories, I’m instead going to talk about the hope right under our feet.

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Forest Parasols and a Thirsty Atmosphere

Have you ever sat down to a cold drink on a hot day and sucked down most of the glass in the first sip? Increasing thirst with increasing temperature also applies to Earth’s atmosphere – as air warms, it can ‘hold’ more water. The difference between the air’s level of moisture and its moisture capacity is dubbed the ‘vapour pressure deficit’ or ‘VPD’, which is essentially a measure of the thirst of the atmosphere.

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Environmental DNA Provides Lessons On Life

Using eDNA, we can figure out where shy animals like this platypus live without disturbing them (Image credit: Amber Noseda, Great Ocean Photography, CC BY 2.0)

As an undergraduate student, more than twenty years ago, discussions of species often referenced ‘lumpers’ and ‘splitters’. Some biologists were more likely to ‘lump’ all variation within a single species while others attributed variation to distinct subspecies, and ‘split’ organisms as such. Back then, we talked about biomes such as forests and grasslands but the term ‘microbiome’ barely existed. Now, even the concept of an organism is questioned as some scientists argue that the individual cannot be separated from the microbiome it hosts. Thanks to advances in molecular biology, every organism is now an ecosystem.

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