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Keywords:

  • Antarctica;
  • McMurdo Dry Valleys;
  • cyanobacteria;
  • wind dispersion;
  • biodiversity;
  • biogeography

Abstract

Life in the Taylor Valley, Antarctica, is dominated by microorganisms, with cyanobacteria being key primary producers in the region. Despite their abundance and ecological importance, the factors controlling biogeography, diversity, dispersal of cyanobacteria in Taylor Valley and other polar environments are poorly understood. Owing to persistent high winds, we hypothesize that the cyanobacterial diversity across this polar landscape is influenced by aeolian processes. Using molecular and pigment analysis, we describe the cyanobacterial diversity present in several prominent habitats across the Taylor Valley. Our data show that the diversity of cyanobacteria increases from the upper portion of the valley towards the McMurdo Sound. This trend is likely due to the net transport of organisms in a down-valley direction, consistent with the prevailing orientation of high-energy, episodic föhn winds. Genomic analysis of cyanobacteria present in aeolian material also suggests that wind mixes the cyanobacterial phylotypes among the landscape units. Our 16S rRNA gene sequence data revealed that (1) many of the cyanobacterial phylotypes present in our study site are common in polar or alpine environments, (2) many operational taxonomic units (OTUs) (22) were endemic to Antarctica and (3) four OTUs were potentially endemic to the McMurdo Dry Valleys.