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Front. Microbiol. | doi: 10.3389/fmicb.2019.00621

Rapid microbial dynamics in response to an induced wetting event in Antarctic Dry Valley soils

  • 1School of Marine Science and Policy, University of Delaware, United States
  • 2School of Science, Faculty of Science and Engineering, University of Waikato, New Zealand
  • 3University of Southern California, Wrigley Institute for Environmental Studies, Department of Biological Sciences, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, United States
  • 4California State University Maritime Academy, United States
  • 5Romberg Tiburon Center for Environmental Studies, San Francisco State University, United States
  • 6School of Science, University of Waikato, New Zealand
  • 7International Centre for Terrestrial Antarctic Research (ICTAR), New Zealand

The cold deserts of the McMurdo Dry Valleys (MDV), Antarctica, host a high level of microbial diversity. Microbial composition and biomass in arid vs. ephemerally wetted regions are distinctly different, with wetted communities representing hot spots of microbial activity that are important zones for biogeochemical cycling. While climatic change is likely to cause wetting in areas not historically subject to wetting events, the responses of microorganisms inhabiting arid soils to water addition is unknown. The purpose of this study was to observe how an associated, yet non-wetted microbial community responds to an extended addition of water. Water from a stream was diverted to an adjacent area of arid soil with changes in microbial composition and activities monitored via molecular and biochemical methods over seven weeks. The frequency of genetic signatures related to both prokaryotic and eukaryotic organisms adapted to MDV aquatic conditions increased during the limited seven week period, indicating that the soil community was transitioning into a typical “high-productivity” MDV community. This work is consistent with current predictions that MDV microbial communities in arid regions are highly sensitive to climate change, and further supports the notion that changes in community structure and associated biochemical cycling may occur much more rapidly than predicted.

Keywords: Antarctica, Polar desert, Dry Valleys, Soil, Climate Change, wetting, McMurdo Dry Valleys, Cyanobacteria, DNA Fingerprinting

Received: 17 Sep 2018; Accepted: 12 Mar 2019.

Edited by:

Anne D. Jungblut, Natural History Museum, United Kingdom

Reviewed by:

Anne Willems, Ghent University, Belgium
J. Goordial, Bigelow Laboratory For Ocean Sciences, United States  

Copyright: © 2019 Niederberger, Bottos, Sohm, Gunderson, Parker, Coyne, Capone, Carpenter and Cary. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner(s) are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

* Correspondence: Prof. Stephen C. Cary, University of Waikato, School of Science, Hamilton, New Zealand, caryc@waikato.ac.nz