Seasonality of Glacial Snow and Ice Microbial Communities


Blooms of microalgae on glaciers and ice sheets are amplifying surface ice melting rates, which are already affected by climate change. Most studies on glacial microorganisms (including snow and glacier ice algae) have so far focused on the spring and summer melt season, leading to a temporal bias, and a knowledge gap in our understanding of the variations in microbial diversity, productivity, and physiology on glacier surfaces year-round. Here, we investigated the microbial communities from Icelandic glacier surface snow and bare ice habitats, with sampling spanning two consecutive years and carried out in both winter and two summer seasons. We evaluated the seasonal differences in microbial community composition using Illumina sequencing of the 16S rRNA, 18S rRNA, and ITS marker genes and correlating them with geochemical signals in the snow and ice. During summer, Chloromonas, Chlainomonas, Raphidonema, and Hydrurus dominated surface snow algal communities, while Ancylonema and Mesotaenium dominated the surface bare ice habitats. In winter, algae could not be detected, and the community composition was dominated by bacteria and fungi. The dominant bacterial taxa found in both winter and summer samples were Bacteriodetes, Actinobacteria, Alphaproteobacteria, and Gammaproteobacteria. The winter bacterial communities showed high similarities to airborne and fresh snow bacteria reported in other studies. This points toward the importance of dry and wet deposition as a wintertime source of microorganisms to the glacier surface. Winter samples were also richer in nutrients than summer samples, except for dissolved organic carbon—which was highest in summer snow and ice samples with blooming microalgae, suggesting that nutrients are accumulated during winter but primarily used by the microbial communities in the summer. Overall, our study shows that glacial snow and ice microbial communities are highly variable on a seasonal basis.

Frontiers in Microbiology
Chris Trivedi
Chris Trivedi
Bioinformatician and Microbial Ecologist

Bioinformatician and data scientist with a passion for all things environmental microbiology.