Molecular analysis of geographic patterns of eukaryotic diversity in Antarctic soils
We describe the application of molecular biological techniques to estimate eukaryotic diversity (primarily fungi, algae, and protists) in Antarctic soils across a latitudinal and environmental gradient between approximately 60 and 87degreesS. The data were used to (i) test the hypothesis that diversity would decrease with increasing southerly latitude and environmental severity, as is generally claimed for "higher" faunal and plant groups, and (ii) investigate the level of endemicity displayed in different taxonomic groups. Only limited support was obtained for a systematic decrease in diversity with latitude, and then only at the level of a gross comparison between maritime (Antarctic Peninsula/Scotia Arc) and continental Antarctic sites. While the most southerly continental Antarctic site was three to four times less diverse than all maritime sites, there was no evidence for a trend of decreasing diversity across the entire range of the maritime Antarctic (60 to 72degreesS). Rather, we found the reverse pattern, with highest diversity at sites on Alexander Island (ca. 72degreesS), at the southern limit of the maritime Antarctic. The very limited overlap found between the eukaryotic biota of the different study sites, combined with their generally low relatedness to existing sequence databases, indicates a high level of Antarctic site isolation and possibly endemicity, a pattern not consistent with similar studies on other continents.
Authors: Lawley, Blair, Ripley, Sarah, Bridge, Paul, Convey, Peter