Benthic diatom flora in supraglacial habitats: a generic-level comparison

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Meltwaters on the surface of glaciers have been identified as hot spots for microbial activity. Records indicate that cyanobacteria and green algae dominate the autotrophic assemblages found in the benthic debris in cryoconite holes. Diatoms are commonly recorded in lentic and lotic ecosystems within polar habitats and, in line with the ubiquity principle for microbial communities, potentially, diatoms should be frequently found in the cryoconite of supraglacial environments. In this study, we cultured debris from cryoconite material collected in Svalbard and Greenland, to promote the growth of diatoms. Diatom generic richness varied between 12 and 17 between sites and was 5-fold higher than previously reported. Cryoconite supported aerophytic, halophytic, epipelic and bryophilic diatoms, suggesting multiple origins of colonizing cells. Twenty-seven genera were cultured from material that had been frozen (–20°C) for >1 year, indicating their long-term cryotolerance. The diatom flora composition was similar to that recorded in relatively acidic arctic lakes of low conductivity, and bore similarities at the generic level to those from terrestrial/semi-terrestrial moss communities from both the Arctic and Antarctic. As glaciers retreat, the diatom cells residing in cryoconite have the potential to act as seeding agents for a variety of terrestrial and aquatic habitats in proglacial regions and beyond.

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: December 1, 2010

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  • The Annals of Glaciology is a peer-reviewed, thematic journal published 2 to 4 times a year by the International Glaciological Society (IGS). Publication frequency is determined and volume/issue numbers assigned by the IGS Council on a year-to-year basis and with a lead time of 3 to 4 years. The Annals of Glaciology is included in the ISI Science Citation Index from volume 50, number 50 onwards.

    Themes can be on any aspect of the study of snow and ice. Individual members can make a suggestion for a theme for an Annals issue to the Secretary General, who will forward it to the IGS Publications Committee. The IGS Publication Committee will make a recommendation for an individual themed Annals issue, together with a potential Annals Chief Editor for that issue, to IGS Council. The IGS Council will make the decision whether to proceed, taking into account the spread of topics and the overall capacity for publication of pages in Annals.

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