Microbial diversity and activity through a permafrost/ground ice core profile from the Canadian high Arctic


*E-mail Lyle.Whyte@mcgill.ca; Tel. (+1) 514 398 7889; Fax (+1) 514 398 7990.


Culture-dependent and culture-independent methods were used in an investigation of the microbial diversity in a permafrost/massive ground ice core from the Canadian high Arctic. Denaturing gradient gel electrophoresis as well as Bacteria and Archaea 16S rRNA gene clone libraries showed differences in the composition of the microbial communities in the distinct core horizons. Microbial diversity was similar in the active layer (surface) soil, permafrost table and permafrost horizons while the ground ice microbial community showed low diversity. Bacteria and Archaea sequences related to the Actinobacteria (54%) and Crenarchaeota (100%) respectively were predominant in the active layer while the majority of sequences in the permafrost were related to the Proteobacteria (57%) and Euryarchaeota (76%). The most abundant phyla in the ground ice clone libraries were the Firmicutes (59%) and Crenarchaeota (82%). Isolates from the permafrost were both less abundant and diverse than in the active layer soil, while no culturable cells were recovered from the ground ice. Mineralization of [1-14C] acetic acid and [2-14C] glucose was used to detect microbial activity in the different horizons in the core. Mineralization was detected at near ambient permafrost temperatures (−15°C), indicating that permafrost may harbour an active microbial population, while the low microbial diversity, abundance and activity in ground ice suggests a less hospitable microbial habitat.