Shifts in coastal Antarctic marine microbial communities during and after melt water-related surface stratification


  • Editor: Gary King

Correspondence: Anouk M.-T. Piquet, Department of Ocean Ecosystems, Energy and Sustainability Research Institute, University of Groningen, Nijenborgh 7, 9747 AG Groningen, The Netherlands. Tel.: +31 50 363 2286; fax: +31 50 363 2261; e-mail:


Antarctic coastal waters undergo major physical alterations during summer. Increased temperatures induce sea-ice melting and glacial melt water input, leading to strong stratification of the upper water column. We investigated the composition of micro-eukaryotic and bacterial communities in Ryder Bay, Antarctic Peninsula, during and after summertime melt water stratification, applying community fingerprinting (denaturing gradient gel electrophoresis) and sequencing analysis of partial 18S and 16S rRNA genes. Community fingerprinting of the eukaryotic community revealed two major patterns, coinciding with a period of melt water stratification, followed by a period characterized by regular wind-induced breakdown of surface stratification. During the first stratified period, we observed depth-related differences in eukaryotic fingerprints while differences in bacterial fingerprints were weak. Wind-induced breakdown of the melt water layer caused a shift in the eukaryotic community from an Actinocyclus sp.- to a Thalassiosira sp.-dominated community. In addition, a distinct transition in the bacterial community was found, but with a few days' delay, suggesting a response to the changes in the eukaryotic community rather than to the mixing event itself. Sequence analysis revealed a shift from an Alpha- and Gammaproteobacteria to a CytophagaFlavobacteriumBacteroides-dominated community under mixed conditions. Our results show that melt water stratification and the transition to nonstabilized Antarctic surface waters may have an impact not only on micro-eukaryotic but also bacterial community composition.