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Microb Ecol. 1998 Nov;36(3):231-238.

N2-Fixing Microbial Consortia Associated with the Ice Cover of Lake Bonney, Antarctica.

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Institute of Marine Sciences, UNC-CH, Morehead City, NC 28557, USA


Nitrogen (N) availability is a key nutritional factor controlling microbial production in Antarctic freshwater and soil habitats. Since there are no significant sources of biologically available N entering these ecosystems, nitrogen fixation may be a major source of "new" N supporting primary and secondary production. The role of N2 fixation was examined in cyanobacteria-dominated microbial aggregates embedded in the permanent ice cover of Lake Bonney, McMurdo Dry Valley (Victoria Land) lakes area, and in cyanobacterial mats found in soils adjacent to the ice edge. Nitrogenase activity was extremely low compared to temperate and tropical systems, but N2 fixation was found at all study sites. N2 fixation occurred under both dark and light conditions, indicating the potential involvement of both phototrophic and heterotrophic diazotrophs. Nitrogenase activity measurements (acetylene reduction assay) and molecular characterization (PCR amplification of nifH fragments) demonstrated a diverse and periodically active (when liquid water is present) diazotrophic community in this arid, nutrient-limited environment. As a result of the close proximity to other microorganisms and the nutritional constraints of this environment, these diazotrophs may be involved in mutually beneficial consortial relationships that enhance their growth when water is available.


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