Human-induced global change is altering most ecosystems on Earth. Highly diverse ecosystems may be better buffered against change, maintaining key functions even as the physical environment changes. How ecosystems respond will likely depend on their biodiversity, but how different components of biological diversity determine ecosystem responses to global change are still poorly understood. Genetic diversity enhances the ability of populations to adapt to change and functional diversity allows different species to carry out key ecosystem functions, but little is known about how these components of diversity will interact with each other and with the number of species present in a changing environment. Sixty years of existing ecological data, field sampling, genetic analyses, experiments, and mathematical models will be used by an interdisciplinary team of researchers to examine multiple aspects of biodiversity in the largest, oldest and most biologically diverse lake in the world, Lake Baikal in Siberia. A major goal of the project will be to develop the ability to predict how this ecosystem will respond to rising temperatures and other stressors. Holding 20% of world's unfrozen fresh water, this UNESCO World Heritage Site is recognized internationally as a globally important freshwater resource, a treasure trove of biodiversity, and a unique natural laboratory in which to study evolution. With an unprecedented diversity of endemic species found nowhere else, Lake Baikal serves as a model for ecosystems with highly unique biota and cold aquatic environments undergoing rapid warming.
Researchers and students will engage in an interdisciplinary international collaborative research program. Funding will support graduate training in both applied and basic areas of science, including molecular biology, ecology, and informatics. Data collected by this project will be publicly available so that they can be used by other scientists and educators. Project results will be communicated to environmental organizations in Russia and the US and to a US-based film team planning an IMAX movie about Baikal and freshwater conservation. School teachers from Michigan, Texas and Tennessee will participate in the project and, together with researchers, develop educational activities on aquatic ecology, biological diversity and global change.