Microbial distribution and turnover in Antarctic microbial mats highlight the relevance of heterotrophic bacteria in low-nutrient environments

FEMS Microbiol Ecol. 2018 Sep 1;94(9):fiy129. doi: 10.1093/femsec/fiy129.


Maritime Antarctica has shown the highest increase in temperature in the Southern Hemisphere. Under this scenario, biogeochemical cycles may be altered, resulting in rapid environmental change for Antarctic biota. Microbes that drive biogeochemical cycles often form biofilms or microbial mats in continental meltwater environments. Limnetic microbial mats from the Fildes Peninsula were studied using high-throughput 16S rRNA gene sequencing. Mat samples were collected from 15 meltwater stream sites, comprising a natural gradient from ultraoligotrophic glacier flows to meltwater streams exposed to anthropogenic activities. Our analyses show that microbial community structure differences between mats are explained by environmental NH4+, NO3-, DIN, soluble reactive silicon and conductivity. Microbial mats living under ultraoligotrophic meltwater conditions did not exhibit a dominance of cyanobacterial photoautotrophs, as has been documented for other Antarctic limnetic microbial mats. Instead, ultraoligotrophic mat communities were characterized by the presence of microbes recognized as heterotrophs and photoheterotrophs. This suggests that microbial capabilities for recycling organic matter may be a key factor to dwell in ultra-low nutrient conditions. Our analyses show that phylotype level assemblages exhibit coupled distribution patterns in environmental oligotrophic inland waters. The evaluation of these microbes suggests the relevance of reproductive and structural strategies to pioneer these psychrophilic ultraoligotrophic environments.

Keywords: Antarctica; microbial mats; photoheterotrophs; psychrophilic; ultraoligotrophy.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Antarctic Regions
  • Bacteria / classification
  • Bacteria / genetics
  • Bacteria / isolation & purification*
  • Bacteria / metabolism*
  • Biofilms / classification
  • Biofilms / growth & development
  • Heterotrophic Processes*
  • Hot Temperature
  • Ice Cover / chemistry
  • Ice Cover / microbiology
  • Microbiota* / genetics
  • Nutrients / analysis
  • Nutrients / metabolism
  • RNA, Ribosomal, 16S / genetics
  • Rivers / chemistry
  • Rivers / microbiology


  • RNA, Ribosomal, 16S