Size and structure of bacterial, fungal and nematode communities along an Antarctic environmental gradient
The unusually harsh environmental conditions of terrestrial Antarctic habitats result in ecosystems with simplified trophic structures, where microbial processes are especially dominant as drivers of soil-borne nutrient cycling. We examined soil-borne Antarctic communities (bacteria, fungi and nematodes) at five locations along a southern latitudinal gradient from the Falkland Islands (51 degrees S) to the base of the Antarctic Peninsula (72 degrees S), and compared principally vegetated vs. fell-field locations at three of these sites. Results of molecular (denaturing gradient gel electrophoresis, real-time PCR), biochemical (ergosterol, phospholipid fatty acids) and traditional microbiological (temperature- and medium-related CFU) analyses were related to key soil and environmental properties. Microbial abundance generally showed a significant positive relationship with vegetation and vegetation-associated soil factors (e.g. water content, organic C, total N). Microbial community structure was mainly related to latitude or location and latitude-dependent factors (e.g. mean temperature, NO3, pH). Furthermore, strong interactions between vegetation cover and location were observed, with the effects of vegetation cover being most pronounced in more extreme sites. These results provide insight into the main drivers of microbial community size and structure across a range of terrestrial Antarctic and sub-Antarctic habitats, potentially serving as a useful baseline to study the impact of predicted global warming on these unique and pristine ecosystems.
Authors: Yergeau, Etienne, Bokhorst, Stef, Huiskes, Ad H.L., Boschker, Henricus T.S., Aerts, Rien, Kowalchuk, George A.