Stable microbial community composition on the Greenland Ice Sheet

Michaela Musilova*, Martyn Tranter, Sarah A. Bennett, Jemma Wadham, Alexandre M. Anesio

*Corresponding author for this work

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

36 Citations (Scopus)
290 Downloads (Pure)


The first molecular-based studies of microbes in snow and on glaciers have only recently been performed on the vast Greenland Ice Sheet (GrIS). Aeolian microbial seeding is hypothesized to impact on glacier surface community compositions. Localized melting of glacier debris (cryoconite) into the surface ice forms cryoconite holes, which are considered ‘hot spots’ for microbial activity on glaciers. To date, few studies have attempted to assess the origin and evolution of cryoconite and cryoconite hole communities throughout a melt season. In this study, a range of experimental approaches was used for the first time to study the inputs, temporal and structural transformations of GrIS microbial communities over the course of a whole ablation season. Small amounts of aeolian (wind and snow) microbes were potentially seeding the stable communities that were already present on the glacier (composed mainly of Proteobacteria, Cyanobacteria, and Actinobacteria). However, the dominant bacterial taxa in the aeolian samples (Firmicutes) did not establish themselves in local glacier surface communities. Cryoconite and cryoconite hole community composition remained stable throughout the ablation season following the fast community turnover, which accompanied the initial snow melt. The presence of stable communities in cryoconite and cryoconite holes on the GrIS will allow future studies to assess glacier surface microbial diversity at individual study sites from sampling intervals of short duration only. Aeolian inputs also had significantly different organic δ13C values (-28.0 to -27.0‰) from the glacier surface values (-25.7 to -23.6‰), indicating that in situ microbial processes are important in fixing new organic matter and transforming aeolian organic carbon. The continuous productivity of stable communities over one melt season makes them important contributors to biogeochemical nutrient cycling on glaciers.
Original languageEnglish
Article number193
Number of pages10
JournalFrontiers in Microbiology
Publication statusPublished - 20 Mar 2015


  • 16S rRNA
  • Aeolian inputs
  • Cryoconite
  • Greenland Ice Sheet
  • Snow
  • Stable carbon isotopes

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