• cyanobacterial mats;
  • polar;
  • biogeography;
  • protists;
  • metazoa;
  • 18S rRNA gene


Cyanobacterial mats are commonly found in freshwater ecosystems throughout the polar regions. Most mats are multilayered three-dimensional structures with the filamentous cyanobacteria embedded in a gel-like matrix. Although early descriptions mentioned the presence of larger organisms including metazoans living in the mats, there have been few studies specifically focused on the microbial eukaryotes, which are often small cells with few morphological features suitable for identification by microscopy. Here, we applied 18S rRNA gene clone library analysis to identify eukaryotes in cyanobacterial mat communities from both the Antarctic and the extreme High Arctic. We identified 39 ribotypes at the level of 99% sequence similarity. These consisted of taxa within algal and other protist groups including Chlorophyceae, Prasinophyceae, Ulvophyceae, Trebouxiophyceae, Bacillariophyceae, Chrysophyceae, Ciliophora, and Cercozoa. Fungi were also recovered, as were 21 metazoan ribotypes. The eukaryotic taxa appeared habitat-specific with little overlap between lake, pond, and ice shelf communities. Some ribotypes were common to both Arctic and Antarctic mats, suggesting global dispersal of these taxa and similarity in the environmental filters acting on protist communities. Many of these eukaryotic taxa likely benefit from protected, nutrient-rich microhabitats within the cyanobacterial mat environment.