Warming polar oceans: Can marine organisms adapt and how will the coexistence of species be affected?

Species interactions are subject to co-evolutionary processes.

Pelagic polar organisms have to adapt to changing environmental conditions to avoid migration or extinction. Therefore, their capability of rapid physiological adaptation to various stress factors shapes the future polar ocean ecosystem. Species interactions are a central driver of diversity and evolution. Planktonic species interact as free-living individuals, and in symbiotic or parasitic associations, resulting in different nutrient acquisition modes (photo-, mixo- and heterotrophy) and predator - prey relationships – all of which shaping the pelagic polar ecosystem.

The interaction between planktonic organisms under changing environmental conditions either results in adaptation or trade-offs and resource competition, as well as in changes in life cycle nutrient acquisition and energy storage strategies. The impact of these processes and changes on ecosystem functioning, as well as carbon (element?) and energy fluxes are not sufficiently understood to predict functional diversity and ecosystem services of marine plankton.

We study interactions between individual planktonic species and populations in the laboratory and in the field [ ]. We further combine morphological and physiological traits and genomics to elucidate cellular, metabolic and regulatory processes resulting from planktonic species interactions. Compound specific isotope analysis and metabolic component profiling (e.g. lipids) via chromatography and mass spectrometry unravel food webs and, in combination with genomic approaches, provide information on trade-offs between energy fluxes for metabolism, for storage and for physiological regulations.

We ultimately want to elucidate the boundaries of adaptation based on physiological limits. The overall goal is to understand the biochemical mechanisms that allow polar species to adapt to rapid changes in the Polar Ocean.


Ulf Bickmeyer

Martin Graeve

Tilmann Harder

Boris Koch

Bernd Krock

Uwe John

Sylke Wohlrab