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 Alex Whittle

Alex Whittle

PhD Student

 Amory C360

 

Amory Building, University of Exeter, Rennes Drive, Exeter, EX4 4RJ , UK

Overview

My research interests link protistology and palaeoclimatology, and primarily center on terrestrial peat-forming ecosystems in the region surrounding Antarctica.

Impacts of changes in the ocean on coastal freshwater peatlands, and the unique biological records produced by such interactions, are the central theme of my research. More specifically, my overarching aim is to better understand how the microbial communities inhabiting coastal peatlands respond to the addition of oceanic salt, which can occur via atmospheric-spray deposition, inundation during storms, and as a result of sea-level change. Currently I am using the salinity responses of soil microbial communities as a proxy to study millennial-scale variability in winds over the Southern Ocean, using newly explored peatland archives on the island of South Georgia.

As a protistologist my principle focus is on testate amoebae, a group of microbial eukaryotes that produce decay resistant shells and can be found in almost every freshwater ecosystem on Earth. The intricate beauty, ruggedness, and ability of these protists to perform complex functions fascinates me. In addition to developing their use as salinity bioindicators, I aim to improve understanding of the other global environmental and biogeographical controls responsible for their distributional trends around Antarctica.

My current research follows three key themes:

1) Response of testate amoebae to salinity: Using naturally occurring salinity gradients, I am working to establish the ecological importance of micro-habitat ionic concentration in governing the biomass of testate amoebae communities and in defining the distribution of individual taxa. My research aims to develop and improve the ecological basis for the use of testate amoebae as palaeoenvironmental indicators in salt-influenced ecosystems.

2) Sub-Antarctic palaeoclimate: As part of my research into the salinity response of testate amoebae I developed a novel palaeoenvironmental proxy that allows these micro-organisms to be used to reconstruct wind conditions from peatland archives. The methodology uses testate amoebae preserved in coastal peatlands to reconstruct past variation in the deposition of wind-blown oceanic salt spray, which in turn indicates former wind conditions. My current project applies this technique to produce records of Late Quaternary changes in the Southern Hemisphere westerly winds over the Southern Ocean from newly collected peat records from the sub-Antarctic Islands. A second aspect of my interest in palaeoclimate focusses on Holocene changes in terrestrial biological productivity within the Southern high latitudes. I am currently working on high-resolution (decadal) records of microbial biomass as part of a wider analysis of the biological response to recent (c. 200 year) changes in the climate of sub-Antarctica.

3) Biodiversity and biogeography of testate amoebae: Through exploration of previously un-sampled locations, combined with a synthesis of existing records, I work toward assessing evidence for bioregionalisation and endemism in the testate amoebae communities of peatlands and lakes within the sub-, maritime- and continental Antarctic. I have a particular interest in the relationship between present day testate amoebae community composition and the glacial history and climate of the sub-Antarctic islands.

Previously, I studied the diversity and ecology of testate amoebae communities on sub-Antarctic Marion Island for my MSc by Research in Physical Geography. Prior to this I worked on a project assessing the global impact of sea-level change on the carbon sink of coastal peatlands, which was published in Scientific Reports in 2016. I received a first class BSc degree with Honours in Physical Geography from the University of Exeter in 2015, where I was the recipient of the Lewis memorial prize for academic achievement.

I am now based jointly at the British Antarctic Survey, Cambridge, and University of Exeter. My project is supported by a Natural Environmental Research Council GW4+ studentship.

I look forward to meeting and collaborating with people who share similar research interests. Please contact me at: aw424@exeter.ac.uk, or via researchgate and twitter (@alexewhittle).

Research

Publications

Key publications | Publications by category | Publications by year

Publications by category


Journal articles

Whittle A, Amesbury MJ, Charman DJ, Hodgson DA, Perren BB, Roberts SJ, Gallego-Sala AV (2018). Salt-Enrichment Impact on Biomass Production in a Natural Population of Peatland Dwelling Arcellinida and Euglyphida (Testate Amoebae). Microbial Ecology Abstract.  Full text.
Whittle A, Gallego-Sala AV (2016). Vulnerability of the peatland carbon sink to sea-level rise. Scientific Reports, 6(1). Full text.

Publications by year


2018

Whittle A, Amesbury MJ, Charman DJ, Hodgson DA, Perren BB, Roberts SJ, Gallego-Sala AV (2018). Salt-Enrichment Impact on Biomass Production in a Natural Population of Peatland Dwelling Arcellinida and Euglyphida (Testate Amoebae). Microbial Ecology Abstract.  Full text.

2016

Whittle A, Gallego-Sala AV (2016). Vulnerability of the peatland carbon sink to sea-level rise. Scientific Reports, 6(1). Full text.

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