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Appl Environ Microbiol. 1995 Jun;61(6):2394-401.

Highly active microbial communities in the ice and snow cover of high mountain lakes.


An exploratory study carried out in Pyrenean and Alpine lakes shows that a rich, active microbial community lives in the slush layers of the winter cover of such lakes in spite of the low temperature and the seasonal occurrence of the habitat. Bacteria were very diverse in morphology, with filaments reaching up to 100 (mu)m long; flagellates, both autotrophic (chrysophytes, cryptophytes, dinoflagellates, and volvocales) and heterotrophic, and ciliates were abundant, reaching biovolume values up to 2.7 x 10(sup6) (mu)m(sup3) ml(sup-1). Species composition was very variable, with dominance depending on date and depth. Although many species were typical of lake plankton communities, some were restricted to the slush, for instance the predatory ciliates Dileptus sp. and Lacrymaria sp., and others were restricted to the surface pools, such as the snow algae Chlamydomonas nivalis. Microbial biomasses and usually bacterial and algal activities were greater in the slush layers than in the lake water. Photosynthesis rate in the upper cover layers reached values up to 0.5 (mu)g of C liter(sup-1) h(sup-1), and high bacterial activities up to 226 pmol of leucine incorporated liter(sup-1) h(sup-1) and 25 pmol of thymidine incorporated liter(sup-1) h(sup-1) were measured. For most species, lake water flooding the ice and snow cover could provide an inoculum. Differential growth depending on the environmental conditions (nutrients, organic matter, light) of a particular slush layer could provide dominance of different groups or species. However, there was no obvious colonizing mechanism for those species not appearing either in plankton or in communities on top of the snowpack.

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