Climate change could negatively affect the interconnected and interdependent webs of life on Earth. Researchers from Duke University said that predicting climate change could be possible by looking at a few ounces of microbial soup full of tiny unicellular organisms called protists.

These microorganisms are so abundant that scientists have estimated that they could weigh up to twice as much as all the animals on Earth combined. They regulate ecosystem responses to climate change and by determining their organizational traits, environmental responses could scale up from individuals to a whole ecosystem level.

 How Does Climate Change Affect Microbial Life? Tiny Unicellular Protist Plays A Big Role in Buffering Global Warming
(Photo : Wikimedia Commons)
Planktonic protists: plants and grazers. The two yellowish protists are diatoms (plants) while the brown life forms are tintinnids (grazers).

Climate Change Effects on Ecosystems

The climate change effects that the world is experiencing right now are causing massive disruptions to all precariously balanced cycles that they are linked to, such as food webs, life cycles, and human health.

In recent years, Science Alert reported that scientists have observed that increasing temperatures have caused more plants to prematurely bloom and become out of sync with insects and birds, as well as the food web.

Ecosystem scientist Marie Keatley and colleagues wrote for The Conversation that early flowering means that there is pollen in the air even though it is not the "pollen season." For many people, the presence of pollen in the air could trigger their asthma or allergies, causing sneezing and wheezing.

But more than human health, the phenomenon of life cycles falling out of sync, known as a phenological mismatch or phase effects, could lead to more problems. This includes changes in animal migration patterns, an outbreak of pest species and disease carriers, disruption of the crop and wild pollination, species starvation, and extinction.

Therefore, it is important to predict the possible effects of climate change to enhance environmental responses that could save ecosystems and life.

ALSO READ: How Deep-Sea Hydrothermal Vents Create Thriving Microbial Food Webs

Protists Can Predict Effects of Climate Change

In the study, titled "Linking Species Traits and Demography to Explain Complex Temperature Responses Across Levels of Organization" published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), researchers tested the effects of climate change on protists by creating a mini-ecosystems using glass flasks that contain 10 different species of the bacteria-eating microbes.

According to Phys.org, the glass flasks were kept at five temperatures ranging from 60 degrees to 90 degrees Fahrenheit. The team measured levels of carbon dioxide in the flasks after two weeks to see how much was produced during respiration.

The team was surprised to find that each of the protist species' responses could be predicted by measuring their size, shape, and cell contents. These traits and demographic information can influence respiration rates for the whole mini-ecosystem.

More so, they found that combining measurements of protist's cell size and shape to a mathematical model gave them a glimpse of how things will play out in their mini-ecosystems, which can be applied in the real world.

That means scientists can predict how climate change will alter microbial life and how it will also influence the pace of climate change. Their findings play an important role in determining the best option for scaling up environmental efforts to a whole ecosystem level.

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