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Modelling the effect of size on the aerial dispersal of microorganisms

Authors

  • David M. Wilkinson,

    Corresponding author
    1. School of Natural Science and Psychology, Liverpool John Moores University, Byrom Street, Liverpool L3 3AF, UK
    2. WSL Swiss Federal Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape Research, Community Ecology Research Group, Site Lausanne, station 2, CH-1015 Lausanne, Switzerland
    3. Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL), Laboratory of Ecological Systems – ECOS, Station 2, CH-1015 Lausanne, Switzerland
      David M. Wilkinson, School of Natural Science and Psychology, Liverpool John Moores University, Byrom Street, Liverpool L3 3AF, UK.
      E-mail: d.m.wilkinson@ljmu.ac.uk
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    • These authors contributed equally to this paper.

  • Symeon Koumoutsaris,

    1. International Space Science Institute (ISSI), CH-3102, Bern, Switzerland
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    • These authors contributed equally to this paper.

  • Edward A. D. Mitchell,

    1. WSL Swiss Federal Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape Research, Community Ecology Research Group, Site Lausanne, station 2, CH-1015 Lausanne, Switzerland
    2. Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL), Laboratory of Ecological Systems – ECOS, Station 2, CH-1015 Lausanne, Switzerland
    3. Laboratory of Soil Biology, Institute of Biology, University of Neuchâtel, Rue Emile-Argand 11, CH-2000 Neuchâtel, Switzerland
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  • Isabelle Bey

    1. Center for Climate Systems Modeling (C2SM), ETH Zurich, CH-8092, Switzerland
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David M. Wilkinson, School of Natural Science and Psychology, Liverpool John Moores University, Byrom Street, Liverpool L3 3AF, UK.
E-mail: d.m.wilkinson@ljmu.ac.uk

Abstract

Aim  We investigate the long-standing question of whether the small size of microbes allows most microbial species to colonize all suitable sites around the globe or whether their ranges are limited by opportunities for dispersal. In this study we use a modelling approach to investigate the effect of size on the probability of between-continent dispersal using virtual microorganisms in a global model of the Earth’s atmosphere.

Location  Global.

Methods  We use a computer model of global atmospheric circulation to investigate the effect of microbe size (effective diameters of 9, 20, 40 and 60 μm) on the probability of aerial dispersal.

Results  We found that for smaller microbes, once airborne, dispersal is remarkably successful over a 1-year period. The most striking results are the extensive within-hemisphere distribution of virtual microbes of 9 and 20 μm diameter and the lack of dispersal between the Northern and Southern Hemispheres during the year-long time-scale of our simulations.

Main conclusions  Above a diameter of 20 μm wind dispersal of virtual microbes between continents becomes increasingly unlikely, and it does not occur at all (within our simulated 1-year period) for those of 60 μm diameter. Within our simulation, the success of small microbes in long-distance dispersal is due both to their greater abundance and to their longer time in the atmosphere – once airborne – compared with larger microbes.

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