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Publications in Glacier by NOMIS researchers

NOMIS Researcher(s)

Published in

December 1, 2022

The melting of the cryosphere is among the most conspicuous consequences of climate change, with impacts on microbial life and related biogeochemistry. However, we are missing a systematic understanding of microbiome structure and function across cryospheric ecosystems. Here, we present a global inventory of the microbiome from snow, ice, permafrost soils, and both coastal and freshwater ecosystems under glacier influence. Combining phylogenetic and taxonomic approaches, we find that these cryospheric ecosystems, despite their particularities, share a microbiome with representatives across the bacterial tree of life and apparent signatures of early and constrained radiation. In addition, we use metagenomic analyses to define the genetic repertoire of cryospheric bacteria. Our work provides a reference resource for future studies on climate change microbiology.

Research field(s)
Health Sciences, Biomedical Research, Microbiology

NOMIS Researcher(s)

Published in

June 1, 2022

The shrinking of glaciers is among the most iconic consequences of climate change. Despite this, the downstream consequences for ecosystem processes and related microbiome structure and function remain poorly understood. Here, using a space-for-time substitution approach across 101 glacier-fed streams (GFSs) from six major regions worldwide, we investigated how glacier shrinkage is likely to impact the organic matter (OM) decomposition rates of benthic biofilms. To do this, we measured the activities of five common extracellular enzymes and estimated decomposition rates by using enzyme allocation equations based on stoichiometry. We found decomposition rates to average 0.0129 (% d−1), and that decreases in glacier influence (estimated by percent glacier catchment coverage, turbidity, and a glacier index) accelerates decomposition rates. To explore mechanisms behind these relationships, we further compared decomposition rates with biofilm and stream water characteristics. We found that chlorophyll-a, temperature, and stream water N:P together explained 61% of the variability in decomposition. Algal biomass, which is also increasing with glacier shrinkage, showed a particularly strong relationship with decomposition, likely indicating their importance in contributing labile organic compounds to these carbon-poor habitats. We also found high relative abundances of chytrid fungi in GFS sediments, which putatively parasitize these algae, promoting decomposition through a fungal shunt. Exploring the biofilm microbiome, we then sought to identify bacterial phylogenetic clades significantly associated with decomposition, and found numerous positively (e.g., Saprospiraceae) and negatively (e.g., Nitrospira) related clades. Lastly, using metagenomics, we found evidence of different bacterial classes possessing different proportions of EEA-encoding genes, potentially informing some of the microbial associations with decomposition rates. Our results, therefore, present new mechanistic insights into OM decomposition in GFSs by demonstrating that an algal-based “green food web” is likely to increase in importance in the future and will promote important biogeochemical shifts in these streams as glaciers vanish.

Research field(s)
Natural Sciences, Biology, Ecology

NOMIS Researcher(s)

November 19, 2020

Glacier-fed streams (GFSs) exhibit near-freezing temperatures, variable flows, and often high turbidities. Currently, the rapid shrinkage of mountain glaciers is altering the delivery of meltwater, solutes, and particulate matter to GFSs, with unknown consequences for their ecology. Benthic biofilms dominate microbial life in GFSs, and play a major role in their biogeochemical cycling. Mineralization is likely an important process for microbes to meet elemental budgets in these systems due to commonly oligotrophic conditions, and extracellular enzymes retained within the biofilm enable the degradation of organic matter and acquisition of carbon (C), nitrogen (N), and phosphorus (P). The measurement and comparison of these extracellular enzyme activities (EEA) can in turn provide insight into microbial elemental acquisition effort relative to environmental availability. To better understand how benthic biofilm communities meet resource demands, and how this might shift as glaciers vanish under climate change, we investigated biofilm EEA in 20 GFSs varying in glacier influence from New Zealand’s Southern Alps. Using turbidity and distance to the glacier snout normalized for glacier size as proxies for glacier influence, we found that bacterial abundance (BA), chlorophyll a (Chl a), extracellular polymeric substances (EPS), and total EEA per gram of sediment increased with decreasing glacier influence. Yet, when normalized by BA, EPS decreased with decreasing glacier influence, Chl a still increased, and there was no relationship with total EEA. Based on EEA ratios, we found that the majority of GFS microbial communities were N-limited, with a few streams of different underlying bedrock geology exhibiting P-limitation. Cell-specific C-acquiring EEA was positively related to the ratio of Chl a to BA, presumably reflecting the utilization of algal exudates. Meanwhile, cell-specific N-acquiring EEA were positively correlated with the concentration of dissolved inorganic nitrogen (DIN), and both N- and P-acquiring EEA increased with greater cell-specific EPS. Overall, our results reveal greater glacier influence to be negatively related to GFS biofilm biomass parameters, and generally associated with greater microbial N demand. These results help to illuminate the ecology of GFS biofilms, along with their biogeochemical response to a shifting habitat template with ongoing climate change.

Research field(s)
Health Sciences, Biomedical Research, Microbiology