Nav: Home

Team discovers that wind moves microinvertebrates across desert

March 13, 2018

The work of faculty and students from The University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP) has yielded the first evidence of how waterborne microinvertebrates move across vast expanses of arid desert.

An article published March 13, 2018 in Limnology and Oceanography Letters, a publication of the Association for the Sciences of Limnology and Oceanography, details for the first time how high desert winds disperse small invertebrates and how they colonize hydrologically disconnected basins throughout the region.

"These novel findings might have large implications for freshwater systems," said Elizabeth J. Walsh, Ph.D., professor in UTEP's Department of Biological Sciences and director of the doctoral program in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. "As climate changes and water patterns shift, our work might help others understand the intricacies of the wind-aided dispersal of freshwater organisms. It's important because these organisms are the base of the food web. How they move will affect the movement of the biological communities that are built up around them."

Walsh added that the impetus for the research grew out of a previous five-year study of Chihuahuan Desert aquatic environments funded by the National Science Foundation. Part of that project involved characterizing the biodiversity of microinvertebrates at 300 sites. Researchers wanted to better understand how organisms were colonizing these bodies of water that were separated by vast distances of desert and not tied together by hydrological links such as drainage routes.

"If they weren't being moved by water, and they weren't being moved by other animals, then the next thing we thought is, 'It has to be the wind,'" Walsh said.

Enter Thomas E. Gill, Ph.D., UTEP professor in the Department of Geological Sciences and Environmental Science and Engineering Program, who while conducting concurrent studies on Chihuahuan Desert wind storms, pondered, "What kinds of living things are being carried along with the dust?"

What followed was a multi-year interdisciplinary research effort that collected dust samples; confirming those samples contained microinvertebrates in dormant, developmental stages; rehydrating them in laboratory settings; and utilizing next-generation sequencing to determine which organisms were present in the dust.

The last step involved moving the dust through a simulated storm to determine if the organisms could survive being blasted through the air across lengthy distances. Doctoral student Jose A. Rivas Jr. and Gill worked with Scott Van Pelt, Ph.D., a soil science researcher with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, to conduct such a test at the USDA Agricultural Research Service's wind tunnel facility in Big Spring, Texas.

"We basically simulated a wind storm," Gill said. "We took the clean desert soil, in which we mixed microinvertebrates, and blew it into the air. After this energetic, turbulent journey through the wind tunnel, our team showed that those organisms, which are about the size of grains of sand in their dormant stage in their development, survived getting sandblasted into the air. They can fly through the atmosphere, maybe hundreds of miles in viable conditions, and still wake up."

Gill said the group's findings will help inspire further research on the movement of organisms. He added that the effort that took place at UTEP was a successful collaboration because of support from the UTEP Interdisciplinary Research (IDR) program, the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Center for Atmospheric Sciences (NCAS). He also said the work conducted by doctoral students Rivas and Jon Mohl - who served as the study's lead and second authors - was vital to the effort.

"It's a very exciting and unique project," said Rivas, who was the study's lead author. "Dust storms are a huge part of the Southwest. We interact with them every spring. What's interesting is not only learning about dust storms but finding out what exactly is being transported, what's in the dust? This is especially important in understanding the diversity of our Chihuahuan Desert ecosystem. Learning how small, aquatic animals are transported and colonize new areas will lead to insights into how communities in tem
-end-
The article was co-authored by Walsh; Gill; Ming-Ying Leung, Ph.D., professor and director of the UTEP Border Biomedical Research Center's Bioinformatics Core; Robert L. Wallace, Ph.D., the Patricia and Philip McCullough Professor in Biology, Ripon College; Mohl; Rivas; and Van Pelt.

The University of Texas at El Paso

Related Organisms Articles:

New NMR technique offers 'molecular window' into living organisms
NMR Technique developed at U of T Scarborough has potential for noninvasive disease diagnosis using current MRI technology.
Evolving 'lovesick' organisms found survival in sex
Being 'lovesick' takes on a whole new meaning in a new theory which answers the unsolved fundamental question: why do we have sex?
Micro-organisms will help African farmers: Soil microbes to the rescue
Sorghum is the fifth most important cereal in the world.
Decreasing antibiotic use can reduce transmission of multidrug-resistant organisms
Reducing antibiotic use in intensive care units by even small amounts can significantly decrease transmission of dangerous multidrug-resistant organisms, according to new research published online today in Infection Control & Hospital Epidemiology, the journal of the Society for Healthcare Epidemiology of America.
Miniature organisms in the sand play big role in our ocean
In the Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology, Jeroen Ingels, a researcher at the FSU Coastal and Marine Laboratory, explains that small organisms called meiofauna that live in the sediment provide essential services to human life such as food production and nutrient cycling.
More Organisms News and Organisms Current Events

Best Science Podcasts 2019

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2019. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Teaching For Better Humans
More than test scores or good grades — what do kids need to prepare them for the future? This hour, guest host Manoush Zomorodi and TED speakers explore how to help children grow into better humans, in and out of the classroom. Guests include educators Olympia Della Flora and Liz Kleinrock, psychologist Thomas Curran, and writer Jacqueline Woodson.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#535 Superior
Apologies for the delay getting this week's episode out! A technical glitch slowed us down, but all is once again well. This week, we look at the often troubling intertwining of science and race: its long history, its ability to persist even during periods of disrepute, and the current forms it takes as it resurfaces, leveraging the internet and nationalism to buoy itself. We speak with Angela Saini, independent journalist and author of the new book "Superior: The Return of Race Science", about where race science went and how it's coming back.