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Keywords:

  • bacteria;
  • community;
  • diversity;
  • glacier;
  • High Arctic

Abstract

Over the past 100 years, Arctic temperatures have increased at almost twice the global average rate. One consequence is the acceleration of glacier retreat, exposing new habitats that are colonized by microorganisms whose diversity and function are unknown. Here, we characterized bacterial diversity along two approximately parallel chronosequences in an Arctic glacier forefield that span six time points following glacier retreat. We assessed changes in phylotype richness, evenness and turnover rate through the analysis of 16S rRNA gene sequences recovered from 52 samples taken from surface layers along the chronosequences. An average of 4500 sequences was obtained from each sample by 454 pyrosequencing. Using parametric methods, it was estimated that bacterial phylotype richness was high, and that it increased significantly from an average of 4000 (at a threshold of 97% sequence similarity) at locations exposed for 5 years to an average of 7050 phylotypes per 0.5 g of soil at sites that had been exposed for 150 years. Phylotype evenness also increased over time, with an evenness of 0.74 for 150 years since glacier retreat reflecting large proportions of rare phylotypes. The bacterial species turnover rate was especially high between sites exposed for 5 and 19 years. The level of bacterial diversity present in this High Arctic glacier foreland was comparable with that found in temperate and tropical soils, raising the question whether global patterns of bacterial species diversity parallel that of plants and animals, which have been found to form a latitudinal gradient and be lower in polar regions compared with the tropics.