Taxon interactions control the distributions of cryoconite bacteria colonizing a High Arctic ice cap

Jarishma Gokul, Andrew J. Hodson, Eli Saetnan, Tristram Irvine-Fynn, Philippa Jade Westall, Andrew Detheridge, Nozomu Takeuchi, Jennifer Bussell, Luis Mur, Arwyn Edwards

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

51 Citations (SciVal)
325 Downloads (Pure)


Microbial colonization of glacial ice surfaces incurs feedbacks which affect the melting rate of the ice surface. Ecosystems formed as microbe–mineral aggregates termed cryoconite locally reduce ice surface albedo and represent foci of biodiversity and biogeochemical cycling. Consequently, greater understanding the ecological processes in the formation of functional cryoconite ecosystems upon glacier surfaces is sought. Here, we present the first bacterial biogeography of an ice cap, evaluating the respective roles of dispersal, environmental and biotic filtration occurring at local scales in the assembly of cryoconite microbiota. 16S rRNA gene amplicon semiconductor sequencing of cryoconite colonizing a Svalbard ice cap coupled with digital elevation modelling of physical parameters reveals the bacterial community is dominated by a ubiquitous core of generalist taxa, with evidence for a moderate pairwise distance–decay relationship. While geographic position and melt season duration are prominent among environmental predictors of community structure, the core population of taxa appears highly influential in structuring the bacterial community. Taxon co-occurrence network analysis reveals a highly modular community structured by positive interactions with bottleneck taxa, predominantly Actinobacteria affiliated to isolates from soil humus. In contrast, the filamentous cyanobacterial taxon (assigned to Leptolyngbya/Phormidesmis pristleyi) which dominates the community and binds together granular cryoconite are poorly connected to other taxa. While our study targeted one ice cap, the prominent role of generalist core taxa with close environmental relatives across the global cryosphere indicate discrete roles for cosmopolitan Actinobacteria and Cyanobacteria as respective keystone taxa and ecosystem engineers of cryoconite ecosystems colonizing ice caps.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3752-3767
Number of pages16
JournalMolecular Ecology
Issue number15
Early online date02 Jul 2016
Publication statusPublished - 27 Jul 2016


  • Svalbard
  • cryoconite
  • biogeography
  • ecosystem engineering
  • keystone species
  • bacteria
  • Ice Cover/microbiology
  • Bacteria/classification
  • RNA, Ribosomal, 16S/genetics
  • Biodiversity


Dive into the research topics of 'Taxon interactions control the distributions of cryoconite bacteria colonizing a High Arctic ice cap'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this