Snow and ice ecosystems: not so extreme

Res Microbiol. 2015 Dec;166(10):782-95. doi: 10.1016/j.resmic.2015.09.002. Epub 2015 Sep 25.


Snow and ice environments cover up to 21% of the Earth's surface. They have been regarded as extreme environments because of their low temperatures, high UV irradiation, low nutrients and low water availability, and thus, their microbial activity has not been considered relevant from a global microbial ecology viewpoint. In this review, we focus on why snow and ice habitats might not be extreme from a microbiological perspective. Microorganisms interact closely with the abiotic conditions imposed by snow and ice habitats by having diverse adaptations, that include genetic resistance mechanisms, to different types of stresses in addition to inhabiting various niches where these potential stresses might be reduced. The microbial communities inhabiting snow and ice are not only abundant and taxonomically diverse, but complex in terms of their interactions. Altogether, snow and ice seem to be true ecosystems with a role in global biogeochemical cycles that has likely been underestimated. Future work should expand past resistance studies to understanding the function of these ecosystems.

Keywords: Extreme; Ice; Microbial ecology; Snow.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Physiological
  • Bacterial Physiological Phenomena*
  • Cold Temperature
  • Ecosystem*
  • Ice
  • Microbial Consortia / physiology*
  • Microbial Interactions
  • Snow / microbiology*
  • Ultraviolet Rays


  • Ice