Global and local-scale variation in bacterial community structure of snow from the Swiss and Australian Alps

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Abstract

Seasonally, snow environments cover up to 50% of the land's surface, yet the microbial diversity and ecosystem functioning within snow, particularly from alpine regions are not well described. This study explores the bacterial diversity in snow using next-generation sequencing technology. Our data expand the global inventory of snow microbiomes by focusing on two understudied regions, the Swiss Alps and the Australian Alps. A total biomass similar to cell numbers in polar snow was detected, with 5.2 to 10.5 × 103 cells mL−1 of snow. We found that microbial community structure of surface snow varied by country and site and along the altitudinal range (alpine and sub-alpine). The bacterial communities present were diverse, spanning 25 distinct phyla, but the six phyla Proteobacteria (Alpha- and Betaproteobacteria), Acidobacteria, Actinobacteria, Bacteroidetes, Cyanobacteria and Firmicutes, accounted for 72%–98% of the total relative abundance. Taxa such as Acidobacteriaceae and Methylocystaceae, associated with cold soils, may be part of the atmospherically sourced snow community, while families like Sphingomonadaceae were detected in every snow sample and are likely part of the common snow biome.

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