Phycology and microbiology
The phycology and microbiology groups, in co-operation with other research institutions (Institute of Botany CAS; Institute of Soil Biology, Biology Centre CAS; Institute of Microbiology CAS; Department of Ecosystem Biology and Department of Experimental Plant Biology, Faculty of Science, University of South Bohemia in České Budějovice; Department of Ecology and Department of Botany, Faculty of Science, Charles University in Prague; etc.), covers wild spectrum of research activities that are focused on following main tasks:
- Molecular diversity, ecology and biogeography of cyanobacteria and algae of the polar regions
- Functional characteristics of the cyanobacteria and algae of the polar regions
- Role of cyanobacteria and algae in individual biotopes and the relations among individual ecosystem components
- Biotechnological exploitations of cyanobacteria and algae of the polar regions
- Soil ecology and microbiology
- Greenhouse gases production by polar soils in different stage of development
- Soil development and the relations among the individual components of the soil ecosystem
The research tasks of the phycology group start by description of taxonomical diversity of cyanobacteria and algae and of selected environmental parameters in studied area in which particular communities live. The cyanobacteria and algae are studied in all types of terrestrial biotopes, including shallow lotic and lentic wetlands, soil crusts, ornithogenic soils, wet tundra, wet walls, cryoseston of the soil fields, cryoconites on glacial surface, lichenized substrates, biotopes influenced by human activities or brackish coastal wetlands. Ecological observations are focused on assessment of important ecological factors and their stability in time in mentioned biotopes. They include both discrete or continual measurements of basic environmental factors (physical-chemical parameters of soils and waters, diurnal courses of temperature, irradiance, water transparency, pH, oxygen concentration, conductivity, etc.). Selected parameters, namely temperature and water availability, are recorded for long periods of time. In addition, the species composition of cyanobacteria and algae is evaluated and rate of the primary productivity is measured.
Based on this in situ description, interesting populations of cyanobacteria and algae are selected for detailed ecophysiological studies. For taxonomical determination of individual species, the polyphasic approach is applied in which the classic microscopic observations are combined with data obtained from DNA sequencing. Isolated strains of cyanobacteria and algae are kept in the working collection, later they are included in the Culture Collection of the Autotrophic Organisms (CCALA) of the Institute of Botany CAS in Třeboň. Ecophysiological characteristics of polar cyanobacteria and algae are investigated using field measurements as well as by laboratory experiments. Svalbard field experiments are focused on measurements of photosynthetic activity and nitrogen fixation (expressed as nitrogenase activity) of Nostoc sp. colonies (Cyanobacteria) in Open-Top-Chamber experiments (see below) and in other defined manipulation experiments, for example evaluation of desiccation effects, on investigation of dormant stage formation in cyanobacteria and algae, and on study of photochemical processes in different types of biotopes. Laboratory experiments are focused on determination of ecophysiological requirements of particular species and detailed studies of their response to various environmental factors.
Due to temperature increase in the Arctic, natural resources exploitation is being expanding and human settlements are being extending in the polar regions. In order to minimize the effects of human activities (e.g. water eutrophication) and improvement of the efficiency of the natural resources exploitation (e.g. fish production), new technologies have to be developer. Some of them will be based on utilization of local microorganisms. The phycology group already performed the first tests for the selection of biotechnologically interesting strains and tested the possibility of mass cultivation in low temperatures.
Soil microbiologists bring their own methods for soil research. The soil samples are collected for chemical and microbiological analyses in context with diversity of microclimatic parameters, time of deglaciation, elevation, substrate type, degree of disruption by wind and water erosion, degree of coverage by vegetation of higher plants and mosses, degree of anthropogenic influence, etc. Together with mentioned analyses, microbial diversity is evaluated and the greenhouse gases exchange in soils o different degree of development, from tundra with full vegetation cover under sea bird sanctuaries to newly developer soil just after deglaciation. Based on these analyses, the soil development is determined in relation to given ecological parameters.
Both groups co-operate in research on the effects of global climate change on the polar ecosystems. Since 2009, experiments using open small greenhouses (Open Top Chambers, OTC) have been performed in selected localities (wet thufur tundra and soil crusts), in which the effects of mild warming and change of soil water content on cyanobacterial and algal communities, and on decomposition rate have been evaluated.