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Ecosystem Function

The latest tools and techniques are used to understand the role of microbes in shaping the environment.

Microbiology

Ecosystem Function Research Activities

Ecosystem function looks at how the interactions among ecosystems affect the functioning of individual ecosystems and the larger landscape. These functions regulate change and stability. Ecosystem disturbances from within or outside drive the ecosystem away from its steady state as the ecosystem works to maintain or bring the system back to a state of equilibrium. Microbes play vital roles in ecosystem function, as they have developed a variety of evolutionary adaptations and physiological mechanisms that allow them to survive, remain active in the face of environmental stress and even thrive due in part to the many different and unique metabolic pathways some microbes possess. Microbes play vital roles in ecosystem function. Stress changes impacting soil microbes that metabolize carbon and nitrogen, such as drought and freezing, can impact microbial physiology and community composition, potentially causing shifts in the allocation of carbon and nitrogen. Changes in species composition, species richness, and/or functional type may affect the efficiency with which resources are processed within an ecosystem, raising the issue of whether the biogeochemical functioning of an ecosystem will be impaired by a loss or change of microbial species.

Early Life on Earth
Titan, Saturn’s largest moon, has a nitrogen-rich atmosphere with 2% methane and 3.5 ppm acetylene. Photo credit: NASA, Voyager 2Acetylene Fermentation
Habitat Restoration
At the foot of San Francisco’s historic Presidio, Crissy Marsh consists of a mix of subtidal, intertidal and upland habitats. Photo Credit: Lisamarie Windham-Myers, USGS San Francisco Bay Salt Pond Restoration; Urban Salt Marsh Restoration
Parasites
Horn snails. Photo credit: Kevin D. Lafferty, USGS DNA Libraries Open the Books on Trematode Parasites
Soil
An intact sagebrush plot in eastern Oregon. Photo credit: Nicole M. DeCrappeo, USGSForests and Soil Biogeochemistry; Soil Community Dynamics in Sagebrush Steppe and Cheatgrass-Invaded Areas of the Northern Great Basin

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