Don’t Forget Plankton In Climate Change Models

phytoplankton

A new study from the University of Exeter, published in the journal Ecology Letters, found that phytoplankton — microscopic water-borne plants — can rapidly evolve tolerance to elevated water temperatures. Globally, phytoplankton absorb as much carbon dioxide as tropical rainforests and so understanding the way they respond to a warming climate is crucial.
Phytoplankton subjected to warmed water initially failed to thrive but it took only 45 days, or 100 generations, for them to evolve tolerance to temperatures expected by the end of the century. With their newfound tolerance came an increase in the efficiency in which they were able to convert carbon dioxide into new biomass.
The results show that evolutionary responses in phytoplankton to warming can be rapid and might offset some of the predicted declines in the ability of aquatic ecosystems to absorb carbon dioxide as the planet warms.

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Growing Asparagus In Meteorites To Prepare Us for Space Food

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For those of us without a green thumb, growing even the most hardy plants in perfect conditions can seem impossible. How about trying to grow plants on a meteorite? Well, at least one scientist is doing it, with moderate levels of success.

The thinking goes—if we’re going to have space colonies, we’re going to need some way to eat. Transporting all food from Earth isn’t realistic, and neither is bringing tons of bags of topsoil. Photos of asteroids, meteors, and other planets in our solar system look incredibly desolate, but, in fact, some of them contain many of the nutrients necessary to grow plants.

“People have been talking about terraforming, but what I’m trying to do is give some concrete evidence that it’s possible to do this, that it’s possible to grow in extraterrestrial materials,” Michael Mautner, a Virginia Commonwealth University researcher and one of the world’s only “astroecologists” told me. “What I’ve found is that a range of microorganisms—bacteria, fungi, and even asparagus and potato plants—can survive with the nutrients that are in extraterrestrial materials.”

Asteroids and meteorites often contain phosphate, nitrates, and even water that plants can feed on. Mautner thinks it’s not outside the realm of possibility to directly grow certain plants on other planets, in some sort of protected environment.

An asparagus seedling in meteorite soil. Image: Michael Mautner

He’s not simply tossing asparagus seeds onto a meteorite, however—he’s grinding up the rock into something more closely resembling soil. His plan is to eventually find several different plants and extraterrestrial soils that make the most sense to farm, and use his experiments to develop a “rating system” for which are likely to fare best—a kind of interplanetary farmer’s almanac, if you will.

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