Deposition and postdeposition mechanisms as possible drivers of microbial population variability in glacier ice


  • Editor: Ian Head

Correspondence: Shu-Rong Xiang, Institute of the Tibetan Plateau Research, Chinese Academy of Science (CAS), Beijing 100085, China. Tel.: +86 10 62849309; fax: +86 10 62849886; e-mail:


Glaciers accumulate airborne microorganisms year by year and thus are good archives of microbial communities and their relationship to climatic and environmental changes. Hypotheses have focused on two possible drivers of microbial community composition in glacier systems. One is aeolian deposition, in which the microbial load by aerosol, dust, and precipitation events directly determines the amount and composition of microbial species in glacier ice. The other is postdepositional selection, in which the metabolic activity in surface snow causes microbial community shifts in glacier ice. An additional possibility is that both processes occur simultaneously. Aeolian deposition initially establishes a microbial community in the ice, whereas postdeposition selection strengthens the deposition patterns of microorganisms with the development of tolerant species in surface snow, resulting in varying structures of microbial communities with depth. In this minireview, we examine these postulations through an analysis of physical–chemical and biological parameters from the Malan and Vostok ice cores, and the Kuytun 51 Glacial surface and deep snow. We discuss these and other recent results in the context of the hypothesized mechanisms driving microbial community succession in glaciers. We explore our current gaps in knowledge and point out future directions for research on microorganisms in glacial ecosystems.