Taxonomic and Functional Diversity of Soil and Hypolithic Microbial Communities in Miers Valley, McMurdo Dry Valleys, Antarctica.
ABSTRACT: 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:Hypoliths (cryptic microbial assemblages that develop on the undersides of translucent rocks) are significant contributors to regional C and N budgets in both hot and cold deserts. Previous studies in the Dry Valleys of Eastern Antarctica have reported three morphologically distinct hypolithic community types: cyanobacteria dominated (type I), fungus dominated (type II) and moss dominated (type III). Here we present terminal-restriction fragment length polymorphism analyses to elucidate the bacterial community structure in hypolithons and the surrounding soils. We show clear and robust distinction in bacterial composition between bulk surface soils and hypolithons. Moreover, the bacterial assemblages were similar in types II and III hypolithons and clearly distinct from those found in type I. Through 16S rRNA gene 454 pyrosequencing, we show that Proteobacteria dominated all three types of hypolithic communities. As expected, Cyanobacteria were more abundant in type I hypolithons, whereas Actinobacteria were relatively more abundant in types II and III hypolithons, and were the dominant group in soils. Using a probabilistic dissimilarity metric and random sampling, we demonstrate that deterministic processes are more important in shaping the structure of the bacterial community found in types II and III hypolithons. Most notably, the data presented in this study suggest that hypolithic bacterial communities establish via a successional model, with the type I hypolithons acting as the basal development state.
Project description:Several species of dryland cyanobacteria are known to occur as hypoliths under semi-translucent rocks. In the Mojave Desert, these organisms find refuge from intense solar radiation under milky quartz where moisture persists for a longer period of time than in adjacent soil surface habitat. Desert mosses, which are extremely desiccation-tolerant, can also occur in these hypolithic spaces, though little is known about this unique moss microhabitat and how species composition compares to that of adjacent soil surface communities. To address this question, we deployed microclimate dataloggers and collected moss samples from under and adjacent to 18 milky quartz rocks (quartz mean center thickness 26 ± 15 mm) in a western high elevation Mojave Desert site. Light transmission through Mojave quartz rocks may be as low as 1.2%, and data from microclimate loggers deployed for five months support the hypothesis that quartz provides thermal buffering and higher relative humidity compared to the soil surface. Of the 53 samples collected from hypolith and surface microhabitats, 68% were Syntrichia caninervis, the dominant bryophyte of the Mojave Desert biological soil crust. Tortula inermis accounted for 28% of the samples and 4% were Bryum argenteum. In a comparison of moss community composition, we found that S. caninervis was more likely to be on the soil surface, though it was abundant in both microhabitats, while T. inermis was more restricted to hypoliths, perhaps due to protection from temperature extremes. In our study site, the differences between hypolithic and surface microhabitats enable niche partitioning between T. inermis and S. caninervis, enhancing alpha diversity. This work points to the need to thoroughly consider microhabitats when assessing bryophyte species diversity and modelling species distributions. This focus is particularly important in extreme environments, where mosses may find refuge from the prevailing macroclimatic conditions in microhabitats such as hypoliths.
Project description:The McMurdo Dry Valleys in Antarctica are a cold hyperarid polar desert that present extreme challenges to life. Here, we report a culture-independent survey of multidomain microbial biodiversity in McKelvey Valley, a pristine example of the coldest desert on Earth. We demonstrate that life has adapted to form highly-specialized communities in distinct lithic niches occurring concomitantly within this terrain. Endoliths and chasmoliths in sandstone displayed greatest diversity, whereas soil was relatively depauperate and lacked a significant photoautotrophic component, apart from isolated islands of hypolithic cyanobacterial colonization on quartz rocks in soil contact. Communities supported previously unreported polar bacteria and fungi, but archaea were absent from all niches. Lithic community structure did not vary significantly on a landscape scale and stochastic moisture input due to snowmelt resulted in increases in colonization frequency without significantly affecting diversity. The findings show that biodiversity near the cold-arid limit for life is more complex than previously appreciated, but communities lack variability probably due to the high selective pressures of this extreme environment.
Project description:The McMurdo Dry Valleys are the largest ice-free region in Antarctica and are critically at risk from climate change. The terrestrial landscape is dominated by oligotrophic mineral soils and extensive exposed rocky surfaces where biota are largely restricted to microbial communities, although their ability to perform the majority of geobiological processes has remained largely uncharacterized. Here, we identified functional traits that drive microbial survival and community assembly, using a metagenomic approach with GeoChip-based functional gene arrays to establish metabolic capabilities in communities inhabiting soil and rock surface niches in McKelvey Valley. Major pathways in primary metabolism were identified, indicating significant plasticity in autotrophic, heterotrophic, and diazotrophic strategies supporting microbial communities. This represents a major advance beyond biodiversity surveys in that we have now identified how putative functional ecology drives microbial community assembly. Significant differences were apparent between open soil, hypolithic, chasmoendolithic, and cryptoendolithic communities. A suite of previously unappreciated Antarctic microbial stress response pathways, thermal, osmotic, and nutrient limitation responses were identified and related to environmental stressors, offering tangible clues to the mechanisms behind the enduring success of microorganisms in this seemingly inhospitable terrain. Rocky substrates exposed to larger fluctuations in environmental stress supported greater functional diversity in stress-response pathways than soils. Soils comprised a unique reservoir of genes involved in transformation of organic hydrocarbons and lignin-like degradative pathways. This has major implications for the evolutionary origin of the organisms, turnover of recalcitrant substrates in Antarctic soils, and predicting future responses to anthropogenic pollution.
Project description:Understanding microbial adaptation to environmental stressors is crucial for interpreting broader ecological patterns. In the most extreme hot and cold deserts, cryptic niche communities are thought to play key roles in ecosystem processes and represent excellent model systems for investigating microbial responses to environmental stressors. However, relatively little is known about the genetic diversity underlying such functional processes in climatically extreme desert systems. This study presents the first comparative metagenome analysis of cyanobacteria-dominated hypolithic communities in hot (Namib Desert, Namibia) and cold (Miers Valley, Antarctica) hyperarid deserts. The most abundant phyla in both hypolith metagenomes were Actinobacteria, Proteobacteria, Cyanobacteria and Bacteroidetes with Cyanobacteria dominating in Antarctic hypoliths. However, no significant differences between the two metagenomes were identified. The Antarctic hypolithic metagenome displayed a high number of sequences assigned to sigma factors, replication, recombination and repair, translation, ribosomal structure, and biogenesis. In contrast, the Namib Desert metagenome showed a high abundance of sequences assigned to carbohydrate transport and metabolism. Metagenome data analysis also revealed significant divergence in the genetic determinants of amino acid and nucleotide metabolism between these two metagenomes and those of soil from other polar deserts, hot deserts, and non-desert soils. Our results suggest extensive niche differentiation in hypolithic microbial communities from these two extreme environments and a high genetic capacity for survival under environmental extremes.
Project description:The soils of East Antarctica have no rhizosphere with the bulk of organo-mineral interactions confined to the thin microbial and cryptogamic crusts that occur in open or cryptic niches and are collectively known as biological soil crust (BSC). Here we demonstrate that cryptic hypolithic varieties of BSC in the Larsemann Hills of East Antarctica contribute to the buildup of soil organic matter and produce several types of continuous organogenous horizons within the topsoil with documented clusters of at least 100 m2. Such hypolithic horizons accumulate 0.06-4.69% of organic carbon (TOC) with isotopic signatures (?13Corg) within the range of -30.2 - -24.0‰, and contain from 0 to 0.38% total nitrogen (TN). The properties of hypolithic organic matter alternate between cyanobacteria- and moss-dominated horizons, which are linked to the meso- and microtopography patterns and moisture gradients. The major part of TOC that is stored in hypolithic horizons has modern or centenary 14C age, while the minor part is stabilized on a millennial timescale through shallow burial and association with minerals. Our findings suggest that hypolithic communities create a "gateway" for organic carbon to enter depauperate soils of the Larsemann Hills and contribute to the carbon reservoir of the topsoil at a landscape level.
Project description:Hypoliths, microbial assemblages found below translucent rocks, provide important ecosystem services in deserts. While several studies have assessed microbial diversity of hot desert hypoliths and whether these communities are metabolically active, the interactions among taxa remain unclear. Here, we assessed the structure, diversity, and co-occurrence patterns of hypolithic communities from the hyperarid Namib Desert by comparing total (DNA) and potentially active (RNA) communities. The potentially active and total hypolithic communities differed in their composition and diversity, with significantly higher levels of Cyanobacteria and Alphaproteobacteria in potentially active hypoliths. Several phyla known to be abundant in total hypolithic communities were metabolically inactive, indicating that some hypolithic taxa may be dormant or dead. The potentially active hypolith network was highly modular in structure with almost exclusively positive co-occurrences (>95% of the total) between taxa. Members of the Cyanobacteria and Alphaproteobacteria were identified as potential keystone taxa, and exhibited numerous positive co-occurrences with other microbes, suggesting that these groups might have important roles in maintaining network topological structure despite their low abundance.
Project description: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:Global patterns in diversity were estimated for cyanobacteria-dominated hypolithic communities that colonize ventral surfaces of quartz stones and are common in desert environments. A total of 64 hypolithic communities were recovered from deserts on every continent plus a tropical moisture sufficient location. Community diversity was estimated using a combined t-RFLP fingerprinting and high throughput sequencing approach. The t-RFLP analysis revealed desert communities were different from the single non-desert location. A striking pattern also emerged where Antarctic desert communities were clearly distinct from all other deserts. Some overlap in community similarity occurred for hot, cold and tundra deserts. A further observation was that the producer-consumer ratio displayed a significant negative correlation with growing season, such that shorter growing seasons supported communities with greater abundance of producers, and this pattern was independent of macroclimate. High-throughput sequencing of 16S rRNA and nifH genes from four representative samples validated the t-RFLP study and revealed patterns of taxonomic and putative diazotrophic diversity for desert communities from the Taklimakan Desert, Tibetan Plateau, Canadian Arctic and Antarctic. All communities were dominated by cyanobacteria and among these 21 taxa were potentially endemic to any given desert location. Some others occurred in all but the most extreme hot and polar deserts suggesting they were relatively less well adapted to environmental stress. The t-RFLP and sequencing data revealed the two most abundant cyanobacterial taxa were Phormidium in Antarctic and Tibetan deserts and Chroococcidiopsis in hot and cold deserts. The Arctic tundra displayed a more heterogenous cyanobacterial assemblage and this was attributed to the maritime-influenced sampling location. The most abundant heterotrophic taxa were ubiquitous among samples and belonged to the Acidobacteria, Actinobacteria, Bacteroidetes, and Proteobacteria. Sequencing using nitrogenase gene-specific primers revealed all putative diazotrophs were Proteobacteria of the orders Burkholderiales, Rhizobiales, and Rhodospirillales. We envisage cyanobacterial carbon input to the system is accompanied by nitrogen fixation largely from non-cyanobacterial taxa. Overall the results indicate desert hypoliths worldwide are dominated by cyanobacteria and that growing season is a useful predictor of their abundance. Differences in cyanobacterial taxa encountered may reflect their adaptation to different moisture availability regimes in polar and non-polar deserts.
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.