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Front Microbiol. 2015 Nov 26;6:1330. doi: 10.3389/fmicb.2015.01330. eCollection 2015.

Structures of Microbial Communities in Alpine Soils: Seasonal and Elevational Effects.

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Environmental Microbiology, Institute of Biogeochemistry and Pollutant Dynamics, ETH Zurich Zurich, Switzerland.


Microbial communities in alpine environments are exposed to several environmental factors related to elevation and local site conditions and to extreme seasonal variations. However, little is known on the combined impact of such factors on microbial community structure. We assessed the effects of seasonal variations on soil fungal and bacterial communities along an elevational gradient (from alpine meadows to a glacier forefield, 1930-2519 m a.s.l.) over 14 months. Samples were taken during all four seasons, even under the winter snowpack and at snowmelt. Microbial community structures and abundances were investigated using Terminal Restriction Fragment Length Polymorphism (T-RFLP) and quantitative PCR (qPCR) of the 16S and 18S rRNA genes. Illumina sequencing was performed to identify key bacterial groups in selected samples. We found that the soil properties varied significantly with the seasons and along the elevational gradient. For example, concentrations of soluble nutrients (e.g., [Formula: see text], [Formula: see text], [Formula: see text]) significantly increased in October but decreased drastically under the winter snowpack. At all times, the alpine meadows showed higher soluble nutrient concentrations than the glacier forefield. Microbial community structures at the different sites were strongly affected by seasonal variations. Under winter snowpack, bacterial communities were dominated by ubiquitous groups (i.e., beta-Proteobacteria, which made up to 25.7% of the total reads in the glacier forefield). In the snow-free seasons, other groups (i.e., Cyanobacteria) became more abundant (from 1% under winter snow in the glacier forefield samples to 8.1% in summer). In summary, elevation had a significant effect on soil properties, whereas season influenced soil properties as well as microbial community structure. Vegetation had a minor impact on microbial communities. At every elevation analyzed, bacterial, and fungal community structures exhibited a pronounced annual cycle.


alpine habitats; bacterial community composition; fungal communities; seasonal snowpack; seasonal variation

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