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Microb Ecol. 1998 Nov;36(3):221-230.

Microbial Phototrophic, Heterotrophic, and Diazotrophic Activities Associated with Aggregates in the Permanent Ice Cover of Lake Bonney, Antarctica.

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Institute of Marine Sciences, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 3431 Arendell Street, Morehead City, NC 28557, USA


The McMurdo Dry Valley lakes, Antarctica, one of the Earth's southernmost ecosystems containing liquid water, harbor some of the most environmentally extreme (cold, nutrient-deprived) conditions on the planet. Lake Bonney has a permanent ice cover that supports a unique microbial habitat, provided by soil particles blown onto the lake surface from the surrounding, ice-free valley floor. During continuous sunlight summers (Nov.-Feb.), the dark soil particles are heated by solar radiation and melt their way into the ice matrix. Layers and patches of aggregates and liquid water are formed. Aggregates contain a complex cyanobacterial-bacterial community, concurrently conducting photosynthesis (CO2 fixation), nitrogen (N2) fixation, decomposition, and biogeochemical zonation needed to complete essential nutrient cycles. Aggregate-associated CO2- and N2-fixation rates were low and confined to liquid water (i.e., no detectable activities in the ice phase). CO2 fixation was mediated by cyanobacteria; both cyanobacteria and eubacteria appeared responsible for N2 fixation. CO2 fixation was stimulated primarily by nitrogen (NO3-), but also by phosphorus (PO43-). PO43- and iron (FeCl3 + EDTA) enrichment stimulated of N2 fixation. Microautoradiographic and physiological studies indicate a morphologically and metabolically diverse microbial community, exhibiting different cell-specific photosynthetic and heterotrophic activities. The microbial community is involved in physical (particle aggregation) and chemical (establishing redox gradients) modification of a nutrient- and organic matter-enriched microbial "oasis," embedded in the desertlike (i.e., nutrient depleted) lake ice cover. Aggregate-associated production and nutrient cycling represent microbial self-sustenance in a microenvironment supporting "life at the edge," as it is known on Earth.


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