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Community-level respiration of prokaryotic microbes may rise with global warming.

Abstract

Understanding how the metabolic rates of prokaryotes respond to temperature is fundamental to our understanding of how ecosystem functioning will be altered by climate change, as these micro-organisms are major contributors to global carbon efflux. Ecological metabolic theory suggests that species living at higher temperatures evolve higher growth rates than those in cooler niches due to thermodynamic constraints. Here, using a global prokaryotic dataset, we find that maximal growth rate at thermal optimum increases with temperature for mesophiles (temperature optima [Formula: see text]C), but not thermophiles ([Formula: see text]C). Furthermore, short-term (within-day) thermal responses of prokaryotic metabolic rates are typically more sensitive to warming than those of eukaryotes. Because climatic warming will mostly impact ecosystems in the mesophilic temperature range, we conclude that as microbial communities adapt to higher temperatures, their metabolic rates and therefore, biomass-specific CO[Formula: see text] production, will inevitably rise. Using a mathematical model, we illustrate the potential global impacts of these findings.

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