Expedition to Lake Baikal: Searching for rare protists in the oldest lake of the world

The endemic Baikal seal Nerpa
A major question in protist (unicellular microeukaryotes) ecology and evolution, is how protists disperse and diverge. Through an expedition to Lake Baikal, the oldest and largest (per volume) lake in the world, we are addressing these questions. Lake Baikal has thousands of endemic species, including some photosynthetic protists (phytoplankton). One of these species is Peridinium baicalense. This species is a photosynthetic dinoflagellate that forms blooms in the water underneath the ice in late winter. Peridinium baicalense is presumably endemic, but is very closely related to a number of species that are found in cold-temperate European lakes, as well as in the Baltic Sea. In my research group we are investigating how these species are related, how they have diverged, and what are the forces have driven this divergence. In an expedition together with my postdoc Natalia Annenkova and my colleague Anke Kremmp (SYKE, Finland) we will sample Lake Baikal in the pursuit of collecting and culturing these dinoflagellates. The expedition is financed by the Swedish Research Council (VR) and Fysiografiska sällskapet and lasts March 19-29, 2014.

Outlet of Lake Baikal

Day trip to Listvianka
Our first encounter with Lake Baikal was on a one-day expedition to the town Listvianka on the South-Western shore. We drove up the Angara river which has its source in Lake Baikal. At the source of the river, Lake Baikal's outlet, we met an incredible sight: A >1 km wide outlet with running water meeting the Baikal ice, and with tall snow-covered mountains in the background. Splendid, beautiful, and majestic! I have seen many ice-covered lakes, but nothing that compares to this. I tried to capture it on this photograph, but it doesn't confer that feeling of awe.

Frozen Lake Baikal seen from Listvianka
Using pre-drilled holes (fishing and drinking water) in Listvianka we tested our equipment and took a first plankton sample. Using our field-microscope we could see that we had dinoflagellates, but the magnification was not large enough to determine if they are P. baicalense. That will have to wait until we are back in the lab. While in Listvianka we visited the Lake Baikal Museum & Aquarium). Most impressive was the endemic Baikal seal "nerpa" (Pusa sibirica). Speak of barrel-shaped…absolutely adorable! Hopefully we will see some in the wild, but that may be difficult. Females build dens under the ice where they raise there pups in late winter and spring.

/Karin Rengefors

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