Diatom Assemblages Promote Ice Formation in Large Lakes

ISME J. 2013 Aug;7(8):1632-40. doi: 10.1038/ismej.2013.49. Epub 2013 Apr 4.


We present evidence for the directed formation of ice by planktonic communities dominated by filamentous diatoms sampled from the ice-covered Laurentian Great Lakes. We hypothesize that ice formation promotes attachment of these non-motile phytoplankton to overlying ice, thereby maintaining a favorable position for the diatoms in the photic zone. However, it is unclear whether the diatoms themselves are responsible for ice nucleation. Scanning electron microscopy revealed associations of bacterial epiphytes with the dominant diatoms of the phytoplankton assemblage, and bacteria isolated from the phytoplankton showed elevated temperatures of crystallization (T(c)) as high as -3 °C. Ice nucleation-active bacteria were identified as belonging to the genus Pseudomonas, but we could not demonstrate that they were sufficiently abundant to incite the observed freezing. Regardless of the source of ice nucleation activity, the resulting production of frazil ice may provide a means for the diatoms to be recruited to the overlying lake ice, thereby increasing their fitness. Bacterial epiphytes are likewise expected to benefit from their association with the diatoms as recipients of organic carbon excreted by their hosts. This novel mechanism illuminates a previously undescribed stage of the life cycle of the meroplanktonic diatoms that bloom in Lake Erie and other Great Lakes during winter and offers a model relevant to aquatic ecosystems having seasonal ice cover around the world.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Bacteria / classification
  • Bacteria / isolation & purification
  • Bacteria / ultrastructure
  • DNA, Ribosomal / genetics
  • Diatoms / microbiology
  • Diatoms / physiology*
  • Diatoms / ultrastructure
  • Ecosystem
  • Ice*
  • Lakes*
  • Microscopy, Electron, Scanning
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Phytoplankton / microbiology
  • Phytoplankton / physiology*
  • Temperature


  • DNA, Ribosomal
  • Ice

Associated data

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