Lac Hertel

Fussmann Lab
Department of Biology

Brachionus logoCO2Brachionus logo

Ecological and evolutionary consequences of elevated CO2

Project in collaboration with the Bell lab.

Janane flask Research assistant Janane Maheswaran inspects a flask with algae © Etienne Décarie
The theme

Organisms experiencing severe environmental change will face extinction unless they either migrate and colonize more suitable habitats or adapt to the new conditions. Increase of atmospheric CO2 is known to affect global climate but few studies have looked into its direct effect on organisms. In this project, we study in laboratory experiments the effect of increasing CO2 levels on mixed cultures of microalgae. We investigate how species assemblages change over time and to what degree algae are able to adapt to increased CO2 in single and mixed cultures.

Visit Etienne Décarie's web site for more information.

Flasks Experimental flasks with different algal cultures. © Etienne Décarie
The questions
  • How does increasing CO2 affect species composition in algal communities comprising multiple functional groups?
  • What is the potential for adaptation by rapid evolution of algae and how does this evolutionary change affect community composition and dynamics?
The system

We run replicated experiments of single populations and mixed algal communities in the McGill Phytotron at either gradually increasing or constant ambient CO2 concentrations. We use six species of microalgae belonging to three different functional groups: green algae, diatoms and cyanobacteria. Due to the fast reproduction of microalgae we will grow hundreds of generations over a few months and our experimental flasks will contain populations with millions of individuals. Our system will allow us to explore the potential for adaptation in lake plankton communities. It also can serve as a model system for slow-growing systems (e.g. forests) that cannot be manipulated over many generations.

Pseudokirchneriella Pseudokirchneriella, one of the green algae used in the experiments. © Etienne Décarie
The people

This is a collaborative research project between the Bell and Fussmann labs.

Co-supervised Masters student Etienne Low-Décarie is currently performing the 100-bottle experiment. He is being assisted by work study student Janane Maheswaran.

Independent Study student Ekaterina Yakushina has studied how CO2 impacts plankton species at higher trophic levels.

The funding
  • NSERC Discovery Grants (PI G. Fussmann)
  • NSERC Equipment Grant (Fussmann & Bell, 2008) for CO2 probe and shaker tables
  • NSERC PGS-M Grant (E. Low-Décarie)