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Microbial Ecology
Vol. 67, No.
1, 2014; Pages: 120 - 128

Airborne Bacterial Populations Above Desert Soils of the McMurdo Dry Valleys, Antarctica

Eric M. Bottos, Anthony C. Woo, Peyman Zawar-Reza, Stephen B. Pointing, Stephen C. Cary

International Centre for Terrestrial Antarctic Research, The University of Waikato, Private Bag 3105, Hamilton, New Zealand


Bacteria are assumed to disperse widely via aerosolized transport due to their small size and resilience. The question of microbial endemicity in isolated populations is directly related to the level of airborne exogenous inputs, yet this has proven hard to identify. The ice-free terrestrial ecosystem of Antarctica, a geographically and climatically isolated continent, was used to interrogate microbial bio-aerosols in relation to the surrounding ecology and climate. High-throughput sequencing of bacterial ribosomal RNA (rRNA) genes was combined with analyses of climate patterns during an austral summer. In general terms, the aerosols were dominated by Firmicutes, whereas surrounding soils supported Actinobacteria-dominated communities. The most abundant taxa were also common to aerosols from other continents, suggesting that a distinct bio-aerosol community is widely dispersed. No evidence for significant marine input to bio-aerosols was found at this maritime valley site, instead local influence was largely from nearby volcanic sources. Back trajectory analysis revealed transport of incoming regional air masses across the Antarctic Plateau, and this is envisaged as a strong selective force. It is postulated that local soil microbial dispersal occurs largely via stochastic mobilization of mineral soil particulates.

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