Decline in Permafrost Threatens the Stability of Microbial Ecosystems in Himalayas

Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, June 22

The thawing of permafrost has destabilized bacterial and fungal networks in the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, reducing their connectedness and complexity by exposing them to harsh high-altitude environmental conditions. While higher temperatures normally stimulate microbial growth, temperature increases that induce permafrost degradation reduce water, oxygen, and nutrient availability to local microorganisms. The loss of microbial communities due to permafrost degradation could lead to cascading changes in Himalayan ecosystem dynamics, and negatively impact the global carbon cycle. Authors suggest that more work is needed to investigate the consequences of this ongoing loss of stable microbial communities on carbon emissions and feedbacks.