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Summary

The objective of this study was to examine the presence and diversity of Archaea within mineral and ornithogenic soils from 12 locations across the Ross Sea region. Archaea were not abundant but DNA sufficient for producing 16S rRNA gene clone libraries was extracted from 18 of 51 soil samples, from four locations. A total of 1452 clones were analysed by restriction fragment length polymorphism and assigned to 43 operational taxonomic units from which representatives were sequenced. Archaea were primarily restricted to coastal mineral soils which showed a predominance of Crenarchaeota belonging to group 1.1b (> 99% of clones). These clones were assigned to six clusters (A through F), based on shared identity to sequences in the GenBank database. Ordination indicated that soil chemistry and water content determined archaeal community structure. This is the first comprehensive study of the archaeal community in Antarctic soils and as such provides a reference point for further investigation of microbial function in this environment.