The Distribution and Identity of Edaphic Fungi in the McMurdo Dry Valleys.
ABSTRACT: Contrary to earlier assumptions, molecular evidence has demonstrated the presence of diverse and localized soil bacterial communities in the McMurdo Dry Valleys of Antarctica. Meanwhile, it remains unclear whether fungal signals so far detected in Dry Valley soils using both culture-based and molecular techniques represent adapted and ecologically active biomass or spores transported by wind. Through a systematic and quantitative molecular survey, we identified significant heterogeneities in soil fungal communities across the Dry Valleys that robustly correlate with heterogeneities in soil physicochemical properties. Community fingerprinting analysis and 454 pyrosequencing of the fungal ribosomal intergenic spacer region revealed different levels of heterogeneity in fungal diversity within individual Dry Valleys and a surprising abundance of Chytridiomycota species, whereas previous studies suggested that Dry Valley soils were dominated by Ascomycota and Basidiomycota. Critically, we identified significant differences in fungal community composition and structure of adjacent sites with no obvious barrier to aeolian transport between them. These findings suggest that edaphic fungi of the Antarctic Dry Valleys are adapted to local environments and represent an ecologically relevant (and possibly important) heterotrophic component of the ecosystem.
Project description:Recent applications of molecular genetics to edaphic microbial communities of the McMurdo Dry Valleys and elsewhere have rejected a long-held belief that Antarctic soils contain extremely limited microbial diversity. The Inter-Valley Soil Comparative Survey aims to elucidate the factors shaping these unique microbial communities and their biogeography by integrating molecular genetic approaches with biogeochemical analyses. Although the microbial communities of Dry Valley soils may be complex, there is little doubt that the ecosystem's food web is relatively simple, and evidence suggests that physicochemical conditions may have the dominant role in shaping microbial communities. To examine this hypothesis, bacterial communities from representative soil samples collected in four geographically disparate Dry Valleys were analyzed using molecular genetic tools, including pyrosequencing of 16S rRNA gene PCR amplicons. Results show that the four communities are structurally and phylogenetically distinct, and possess significantly different levels of diversity. Strikingly, only 2 of 214 phylotypes were found in all four valleys, challenging a widespread assumption that the microbiota of the Dry Valleys is composed of a few cosmopolitan species. Analysis of soil geochemical properties indicated that salt content, alongside altitude and Cu(2+), was significantly correlated with differences in microbial communities. Our results indicate that the microbial ecology of Dry Valley soils is highly localized and that physicochemical factors potentially have major roles in shaping the microbiology of ice-free areas of Antarctica. These findings hint at links between Dry Valley glacial geomorphology and microbial ecology, and raise previously unrecognized issues related to environmental management of this unique ecosystem.
Project description:The McMurdo Dry Valleys of Antarctica are an extreme polar desert. Mineral soils support subsurface microbial communities and translucent rocks support development of hypolithic communities on ventral surfaces in soil contact. Despite significant research attention, relatively little is known about taxonomic and functional diversity or their inter-relationships. Here we report a combined diversity and functional interrogation for soil and hypoliths of the Miers Valley in the McMurdo Dry Valleys of Antarctica. The study employed 16S rRNA fingerprinting and high throughput sequencing combined with the GeoChip functional microarray. The soil community was revealed as a highly diverse reservoir of bacterial diversity dominated by actinobacteria. Hypolithic communities were less diverse and dominated by cyanobacteria. Major differences in putative functionality were that soil communities displayed greater diversity in stress tolerance and recalcitrant substrate utilization pathways, whilst hypolithic communities supported greater diversity of nutrient limitation adaptation pathways. A relatively high level of functional redundancy in both soil and hypoliths may indicate adaptation of these communities to fluctuating environmental conditions.
Project description:Polar ecosystems are generally limited in nitrogen (N) nutrients, and the patchy availability of N is partly determined by biological pathways, such as nitrification, which are carried out by distinctive prokaryotic functional groups. The activity and diversity of microorganisms are generally strongly influenced by environmental conditions. However, we know little of the attributes that control the distribution and activity of specific microbial functional groups, such as nitrifiers, in extreme cold environments and how they may respond to change. To ascertain relationships between soil geochemistry and the ecology of nitrifying microbial communities, we carried out a laboratory-based manipulative experiment to test the selective effect of key geochemical variables on the activity and abundance of ammonia-oxidizing communities in soils from the McMurdo Dry Valleys of Antarctica. We hypothesized that nitrifying communities, adapted to different environmental conditions within the Dry Valleys, will have distinct responses when submitted to similar geochemical disturbances. In order to test this hypothesis, soils from two geographically distant and geochemically divergent locations, Miers and Beacon Valleys, were incubated over 2 months under increased conductivity, ammonia concentration, copper concentration, and organic matter content. Amplicon sequencing of the 16S rRNA gene and transcripts allowed comparison of the response of ammonia-oxidizing Archaea (AOA) and ammonia-oxidizing Bacteria (AOB) to each treatment over time. This approach was combined with measurements of 15NH4+ oxidation rates using 15N isotopic additions. Our results showed a higher potential for nitrification in Miers Valley, where environmental conditions are milder relative to Beacon Valley. AOA exhibited better adaptability to geochemical changes compared to AOB, particularly to the increase in copper and conductivity. AOA were also the only nitrifying group found in Beacon Valley soils. This laboratorial manipulative experiment provided new knowledge on how nitrifying groups respond to changes on key geochemical variables of Antarctic desert soils, and we believe these results offer new insights on the dynamics of N cycling in these ecosystems.
Project description:The McMurdo Dry Valleys of Antarctica are considered to be one of the most physically and chemically extreme terrestrial environments on the Earth. However, little is known about the organisms involved in nitrogen transformations in these environments. In this study, we investigated the diversity and abundance of ammonia-oxidizing archaea (AOA) and bacteria (AOB) in four McMurdo Dry Valleys with highly variable soil geochemical properties and climatic conditions: Miers Valley, Upper Wright Valley, Beacon Valley and Battleship Promontory. The bacterial communities of these four Dry Valleys have been examined previously, and the results suggested that the extremely localized bacterial diversities are likely driven by the disparate physicochemical conditions associated with these locations. Here we showed that AOB and AOA amoA gene diversity was generally low; only four AOA and three AOB operational taxonomic units (OTUs) were identified from a total of 420 AOA and AOB amoA clones. Quantitative PCR analysis of amoA genes revealed clear differences in the relative abundances of AOA and AOB amoA genes among samples from the four dry valleys. Although AOB amoA gene dominated the ammonia-oxidizing community in soils from Miers Valley and Battleship Promontory, AOA amoA gene were more abundant in samples from Upper Wright and Beacon Valleys, where the environmental conditions are considerably harsher (e.g., extremely low soil C/N ratios and much higher soil electrical conductivity). Correlations between environmental variables and amoA genes copy numbers, as examined by redundancy analysis (RDA), revealed that higher AOA/AOB ratios were closely related to soils with high salts and Cu contents and low pH. Our findings hint at a dichotomized distribution of AOA and AOB within the Dry Valleys, potentially driven by environmental constraints.
Project description:The soils of the McMurdo Dry Valleys, Antarctica are an extreme polar desert, inhabited exclusively by microscopic taxa. This region is on the threshold of anticipated climate change, with glacial melt, permafrost thaw, and the melting of massive buried ice increasing liquid water availability and mobilizing soil nutrients. Experimental water and organic matter (OM) amendments were applied to investigate how these climate change effects may impact the soil communities. To identify active taxa and their functions, total community RNA transcripts were sequenced and annotated, and amended soils were compared with unamended control soils using differential abundance and expression analyses. Overall, taxonomic diversity declined with amendments of water and OM. The domain Bacteria increased with both amendments while Eukaryota declined from 38% of all taxa in control soils to 8 and 11% in water and OM amended soils, respectively. Among bacterial phyla, Actinobacteria (59%) dominated water-amended soils and Firmicutes (45%) dominated OM amended soils. Three bacterial phyla (Actinobacteria, Proteobacteria, and Firmicutes) were primarily responsible for the observed positive functional responses, while eukaryotic taxa experienced the majority (27 of 34) of significant transcript losses. These results indicated that as climate changes in this region, a replacement of endemic taxa adapted to dry, oligotrophic conditions by generalist, copiotrophic taxa is likely.
Project description:Cyanobacterial mats in the Antarctic Dry Valleys are photosynthetic microbial ecosystems living at the extreme of conditions on Earth with respect to temperature, light, water and nutrient availability. They are metabolically active for about 8 weeks during the austral summer when temperatures briefly rise above freezing and glacial and lake melt waters are available. There is much to learn about the biogeochemical impact of mats in these environments and the microbial communities associated with them. Our data demonstrate that these mats attain surprisingly high rates of carbon (CO2) and dinitrogen (N2) fixation when liquid water is available, in some cases comparable to rates in warmer temperate or tropical environments. C and N2 fixation in Dry Valley mats in turn substantially elevate dissolved organic C and inorganic N pools and thereby promote enhanced microbial secondary production. Moreover, the microbial community fingerprint of these mats is unique compared with the more ubiquitous dry soils that do not contain mats. Components of the heterotrophic microbiota may also contribute substantially to N inputs through N2 fixation.
Project description:High-elevation valleys in dry areas of the Himalayas are among the most extreme, yet least explored environments on Earth. These barren, rocky valleys are subjected to year-round temperature fluctuations across the freezing point and very low availability of water and nutrients, causing previous workers to hypothesize that no photoautotrophic life (primary producers) exists in these locations. However, there has been no work using modern biogeochemical or culture-independent molecular methods to test the hypothesis that photoautotrophs are absent from high Himalayan soil systems. Here, we show that although microbial biomass levels are as low as those of the Dry Valleys of Antarctica, there are abundant microbial photoautotrophs, displaying unexpected phylogenetic diversity, in barren soils from just below the permanent ice line of the central Himalayas. Furthermore, we discovered that one of the dominant algal clades from the high Himalayas also contains the dominant algae in culture-independent surveys of both soil and ice samples from the Dry Valleys of Antarctica, revealing an unexpected link between these environmentally similar but geographically very distant systems. Phylogenetic and biogeographic analyses demonstrated that although this algal clade is globally distributed to other high-altitude and high-latitude soils, it shows significant genetic isolation by geographical distance patterns, indicating local adaptation and perhaps speciation in each region. Our results are the first to demonstrate the remarkable similarities of microbial life of arid soils of Antarctica and the high Himalayas. Our findings are a starting point for future comparative studies of the dry valleys of the Himalayas and Antarctica that will yield new insights into the cold and dry limits to life on Earth.
Project description:Soil microbial communities of the McMurdo Dry Valleys, Antarctica (MDV) contain representatives from at least fourteen bacterial phyla. However, given low rates of microbial activity, it is unclear whether this richness represents functioning rather than dormant members of the community. We used stable isotope probing (SIP) with (18) O-water to determine if microbial populations grow in MDV soils. Changes in the microbial community were characterized in soils amended with H2 (18) O and H2 (18) O-organic matter. Sequencing the 16S rRNA genes of the heavy and light fractions of the bacterial community DNA shows that DNA of microbial populations was labeled with (18) O-water, indicating these micro-organisms grew in the MDV soils. Significant differences existed in the community composition of the heavy and light fractions of the H2 (18) O and H2 (18) O-organic matter amended samples (Anosim P < 0.05 of weighted Unifrac distance). Control samples and the light DNA fraction of the H2 (18) O amended samples were dominated by representatives of the phyla Deinococcus-Thermus, Proteobacteria, Planctomyces, Gemmatimonadetes, Actinobacteria and Acidobacteria, whereas Proteobacteria were more prevalent in the heavy DNA fractions from the H2 (18) O-water and the H2 (18) O-water-organic matter treatments. Our results indicate that SIP with H2 (18) O can be used to distinguish active bacterial populations even in this low organic matter environment.
Project description:Antarctic soil supports surface microbial communities that are dependent on ephemeral moisture. Understanding the response to availability of this resource is essential to predicting how the system will respond to climate change. The McMurdo Dry Valleys are the largest ice-free soil region in Antarctica. They are a hyper-arid polar desert with extremely limited moisture availability. Microbial colonization dominates this ecosystem but surprisingly little is known about how communities respond to changing moisture regimes. We utilized the natural model system provided by transiently wetted soil at lake margins in the Dry Valleys to interrogate microbial responses along a well-defined contiguous moisture gradient and disentangle responses between and within phyla. We identified a striking non-linear response among bacteria where at low moisture levels small changes resulted in a large impact on diversity. At higher moister levels community responses were less pronounced, resulting in diversity asymptotes. We postulate that whilst the main drivers of observed community diversity were deterministic, a switch in the major influence occurred from abiotic factors at low moisture levels to biotic interactions at higher moisture. Response between and within phyla was markedly different, highlighting the importance of taxonomic resolution in community analysis. Furthermore, we resolved apparent stochasticity at high taxonomic ranks as the result of deterministic interactions taking place at finer taxonomic and spatial scales. Overall the findings provide new insight on the response to moisture and this will be useful in advancing understanding of potential ecosystem responses in the threatened McMurdo Dry Valleys system.
Project description:Abiotic and biotic factors control ecosystem biodiversity, but their relative contributions remain unclear. The ultraoligotrophic ecosystem of the Antarctic Dry Valleys, a simple yet highly heterogeneous ecosystem, is a natural laboratory well-suited for resolving the abiotic and biotic controls of community structure. We undertook a multidisciplinary investigation to capture ecologically relevant biotic and abiotic attributes of more than 500 sites in the Dry Valleys, encompassing observed landscape heterogeneities across more than 200 km2. Using richness of autotrophic and heterotrophic taxa as a proxy for functional complexity, we linked measured variables in a parsimonious yet comprehensive structural equation model that explained significant variations in biological complexity and identified landscape-scale and fine-scale abiotic factors as the primary drivers of diversity. However, the inclusion of linkages among functional groups was essential for constructing the best-fitting model. Our findings support the notion that biotic interactions make crucial contributions even in an extremely simple ecosystem.