Response of Antarctic cryoconite microbial communities to light

Elizabeth A. Bagshaw*, Jemma L. Wadham, Martyn Tranter, Rupert Perkins, Alistair Morgan, Christopher J. Williamson, Andrew G Fountain, Sean Fitzsimons, Ashley J Dubnick

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

17 Citations (Scopus)
344 Downloads (Pure)


Microbial communities on polar glacier surfaces are found dispersed on the ice surface, or concentrated in cryoconite holes and cryolakes, which are accumulations of debris covered by a layer of ice for some or all of the year. The ice lid limits the penetration of photosynthetically available radiation (PAR) to the sediment layer, since the ice attenuates up to 99% of incoming radiation. This suite of field and laboratory experiments demonstrates that PAR is an important control on primary production in cryoconite and cryolake ecosystems. Increased light intensity increased efficiency of primary production in controlled laboratory incubations of debris from the surface of Joyce Glacier, McMurdo Dry Valleys, Antarctica. However, when light intensity was increased to levels near that received on the ice surface, without the protection of an ice lid, efficiency decreased and measurements of photophysiology showed that the communities suffered light stress. The communities are therefore well adapted to low light levels. Comparison with Arctic cryoconite communities, which are typically not covered by an ice lid for the majority of the ablation season, showed that these organisms were also stressed by high light, so they must employ strategies to protect against photodamage.

Original languageEnglish
Article numberfiw076
Number of pages11
JournalFEMS Microbiology Ecology
Issue number6
Early online date18 Apr 2016
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2016


  • Cryoconite
  • Glaciers
  • PAR
  • Photophysiology

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