Key rules of life and the fading cryosphere: Impacts in alpine lakes and streams

James J. Elser, Chenxi Wu, Angélica L. González, Daniel H. Shain, Heidi J. Smith, Ruben Sommaruga, Craig E. Williamson, Janice Brahney, Scott Hotaling, Joseph Vanderwall, Jinlei Yu, Vladimir Aizen, Elena Aizen, Tom J. Battin, Roberto Camassa, Xiu Feng, Hongchen Jiang, Lixin Lu, John J. Qu, Ze RenJun Wen, Lijuan Wen, H. Arthur Woods, Xiong Xiong, Jun Xu, Gongliang Yu, Joel T. Harper, Jasmine E. Saros

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

44 Scopus citations


Alpine regions are changing rapidly due to loss of snow and ice in response to ongoing climate change. While studies have documented ecological responses in alpine lakes and streams to these changes, our ability to predict such outcomes is limited. We propose that the application of fundamental rules of life can help develop necessary predictive frameworks. We focus on four key rules of life and their interactions: the temperature dependence of biotic processes from enzymes to evolution; the wavelength dependence of the effects of solar radiation on biological and ecological processes; the ramifications of the non-arbitrary elemental stoichiometry of life; and maximization of limiting resource use efficiency across scales. As the cryosphere melts and thaws, alpine lakes and streams will experience major changes in temperature regimes, absolute and relative inputs of solar radiation in ultraviolet and photosynthetically active radiation, and relative supplies of resources (e.g., carbon, nitrogen, and phosphorus), leading to nonlinear and interactive effects on particular biota, as well as on community and ecosystem properties. We propose that applying these key rules of life to cryosphere-influenced ecosystems will reduce uncertainties about the impacts of global change and help develop an integrated global view of rapidly changing alpine environments. However, doing so will require intensive interdisciplinary collaboration and international cooperation. More broadly, the alpine cryosphere is an example of a system where improving our understanding of mechanistic underpinnings of living systems might transform our ability to predict and mitigate the impacts of ongoing global change across the daunting scope of diversity in Earth's biota and environments.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)6644-6656
Number of pages13
JournalGlobal Change Biology
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 2020


  • cryosphere
  • glaciers
  • lakes
  • rules of life
  • streams


Dive into the research topics of 'Key rules of life and the fading cryosphere: Impacts in alpine lakes and streams'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this