Aims of the project and objectives

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The major goal of this interdisciplinary study is to combine past and modern data to predict the likely ecological changes in Alpine lakes in the course of further climate change. Our approach is interdisciplinary, linking meteorology with hydrogeology and limnology of the study lakes and their catchment area. Microscopical enumeration of planktonic organisms will be supplemented using modern ultra-deep sequencing linked to bioinformatic exploration.


Objectives:

1) Changes in species diversity

We expect that changes in air/water temperature will cause significant shifts in aquatic communities along an altitude gradient. Since the altitude in the Niedere Tauern region is relatively low (highest summits ca. 2500 m a. SL), true alpine planktonic taxa are expected to disappear during temperature rise.

2) Genetic population structure of alpine planktonic algae

It is expected that the short reaction times of aquatic organisms result in significant changes of planktonic population structure at relatively short time scales. Different taxa may, however, respond differently to the climate-induced disturbance. Microevolutionary processes (evolution below species level) will become visible by molecular genetic methods such as ultra-deep sequencing.

3) Catchment area and climate sensitivity

In previous studies geology (cristalline vs. carbonaceous) and vegetation cover (forested vs. non-forested) had the highest influence on the lake chemistry from all catchment characteristics. Thus, lakes that differ in these characters might also respond differently to climate warming.

4) Regional variability in response to climate change

Local impacts such as glaciers which are causing strong cooling of alpine lakes may completely disappear resulting in an over proportional increase in water temperature, followed by sudden changes in habitat characteristics.