University of Waikato researchers are looking at how the biological world responds to changing temperatures.
The Royal Society Te Apārangi has awarded Professor Vickery Arcus a prestigious James Cook Research Fellowship. His work is on the temperature dependence of biological rates from enzymes to ecosystems.
Enzymes catalyse the chemical reactions necessary for life to exist, and Professor Arcus is charting how they respond to changes in temperature. The model they have developed from individual enzymes scales up to vastly complex behaviour - organisms, the ecosystem and the biosphere itself.
One of the big unknowns in climate change is what the biosphere will do as temperature goes up. Professor Arcus says the current models are relatively simple. “If we are successful in describing from a fundamental point of view the behaviour of biological systems in response to warming, then we can use the new model to predict how the biosphere will react. We’re interested to see if our predictions differ significantly to those produced by simpler models.”
The balance of all the world’s organisms respiring and all of them photosynthesising is a major contributor to the amount of carbon dioxide in the air. Being able to predict whether the balance will change with global warming will help produce a more accurate picture of the future of the planet.
Professor Arcus is collaborating with Waikato’s Professor Louis Schipper and other researchers and students on four projects which converge on the subject. He will use Fellowship funding to coordinate and expand the work.
He says he is proud to be able to bring the James Cook Research Fellowship to the University of Waikato. “It means the very best science is being done here.”