The world’s largest, and biologically diverse lake

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Human‐induced global change is altering most
ecosystems on Earth. How ecosystems will respond
greatly depends on their biodiversity: genetic
diversity may allow populations to adapt to change
and functional diversity allows different species to
carry out many different ‘jobs’ in the ecosystem,
increasing its resilience. The exact mechanisms of
how different dimensions of biodiversity determine
ecosystem responses to global change are, how‐
ever, poorly understood. An interdisciplinary team
of researchers will use 60 years of unique ecological
data, extensive field sampling, genetic analyses,
laboratory experiments and novel mathemati‐
cal models to examine for the first time multiple
aspects of biodiversity in the largest, oldest and
most biodiverse lake in the world – Lake Baikal in
Siberia – and to predict how this ecosystem will
respond to accelerating environmental change. Lake
Baikal’s planktonic food web (microscopic algae and
zooplankton) fuels the rest of Baikal’s incredibly
diverse biota and is dominated by endemic species
that are extremely sensitive to rising temperatures
and other anthropogenic stressors. The researchers
will determine if the genetic and functional diver‐
sity in the endemic species will allow them to adapt
and persist in the changing climate or whether the
lake’s unique food web will collapse and be replaced
by widely distributed (cosmopolitan) species, which
may have dramatic consequences for the entire
ecosystem, including the world’s only freshwater
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 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.
Data collected on this project will be publically avail‐
able so that their uses and value extend beyond this
project and the researchers’ laboratories. Research‐
ers and students will engage in an interdisciplinary
international collaborative research program. Fund‐
ing will support graduate training in both applied
and basic areas of science, including molecular
biology, ecology, and informatics. The results will
be communicated to environmental organizations
in Russia and the US and to a US‐based film team
planning an IMAX movie about Lake 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.

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