Association of Polar Early Career Scientists

microbial ecologyMicrobial ecology is the study of interrelationships between microorganisms and the living and non-living aspects of the environments that they inhabit. Microorganisms are important players in Polar habitats, where they are major drivers of biogeochemical cycles in aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems. In the Arctic, for example, the thawing of permafrost could lead to increases in microbial activities and carbon decomposition, resulting in accelerated release of greenhouse gases. In the Antarctic, microorganisms are important in mediating nutrient cycling in surface lakes and subglacial environments, which are thought to carry important nutrients to the surrounding Southern Ocean. Additionally, studies focusing on the survival mechanisms of microbes exposed to sub-zero conditions or freeze-thaw cycles contribute to our understanding of the resilience of life and to advances in the fields of biotechnology and astrobiology. Answering basic questions about microbial ecosystems can be difficult, as the systems cannot be observed directly, but recent technological advances allow the construction of molecular “blueprints”, which are keys to describing and understanding microbial ecosystems. Large quantities of these molecular data help inform our understanding of microbial population structures and metabolic activities, as well as how these elements interact with the environment as a whole. Combining current molecular approaches with field-based measurement and laboratory-based culture studies allows today’s microbial ecologists to examine important issues ranging from the impact of changing climate on nutrient cycling to life’s ability to survive in extreme environments.

This page was put together by Eric Collins, Tristy Vick-Majors and Dr. Punyasloke Bhadury


Do you want more information about Microbial Ecology? Here are some links and information about a few of the important organizations, listservs and journals in the microbial world.


Looking for advice on research ideas or career paths? Find a mentor!

APECS mentors in Microbial Ecology include:

  • Dr. Dolors Vaqué studies polar viruses at the Institut de Ciències del Mar in Barcelona and aims to isolate and identify viruses infecting marine microorganisms to understand viral diversity and host range specificity.
  • Postdoc Eric Collins studies bacterial and archaeal evolution at McMaster University and has interests in astrobiology and sea ice ecosystems.
  • Dr. Donatella de Pascale studies the evolution of psychrophily at the National Research Council in Naples, Italy with particular interests in Antarctic microorganisms with potential biotechnological applications.
  • Dr. Bruno Danis enables biodiversity research at the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences with bioinformatics techniques, with particular emphases on Antarctic systems.
  • Professor Liane Benning studies geochemical reaction mechanisms at the University of Leeds and is interested in life in extreme environments and astrobiology.
  • Professor Ross Virginia studies soil ecosystems in extreme environments, is Director of the Institute of Arctic Studies at Dartmouth College, and has led field expeditions at both poles.
  • Professor Gary Laursen is a mycologist from the University of Alaska Fairbanks who combines lab research in genomics, phylogeography, systematics, taxonomy, and ecology with extensive Arctic field experience.
  • Dr. Josef Elster is a microalgae ecologist and physiologist from the University of South Bohemia, Czech Republic, with extensive field experience, having participated in more than 20 polar expeditions.
  • Postdoc Eva Leu studies phytoplankton at The University Centre in Svalbard with particular emphasis on the effect of light and climate on primary production at low temperature.
  • Assistant Professor Rachael Morga-Kiss studies extremophilic photoautotrophic microorganisms at Miami University, with long term interests in developing high resolution ecological models of microbial environmental adaptation.
  • Associate Professor Pedro Cid-Aguero studies biofuel production in cold climates at the University of Magallanes in Chile, and has visited Antarctica to investigate microalgae.

For more information and contact information for these and other mentors, visit the mentors page.

Contact APECS

APECS International Directorate
Alfred Wegener Institute, Helmholtz Center for Polar and Marine Research
Telegrafenberg A45
14473 Potsdam
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