Aeolian dispersal of bacteria in southwest Greenland: their sources, abundance, diversity and physiological states

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Abstract

The Arctic is undergoing dramatic climatic changes that cause profound transformations in its terrestrial ecosystems and consequently in the microbial communities that inhabit them. The assembly of these communities is affected by aeolian deposition. However, the abundance, diversity, sources and activity of airborne microorganisms in the Arctic are poorly understood. We studied bacteria in the atmosphere over southwest Greenland and found that the diversity of bacterial communities correlated positively with air temperature and negatively with relative humidity. The communities consisted of 1.3×103 ± 1.0×103 cells m−3, which were aerosolized from local terrestrial environments or transported from marine, glaciated and terrestrial surfaces over long distances. On average, airborne bacterial cells displayed a high activity potential, reflected in the high 16S rRNA copy number (590 ± 300 rRNA cell−1), that correlated positively with water vapor pressure. We observed that bacterial clades differed in their activity potential. For instance, a high activity potential was seen for Rubrobacteridae and Clostridiales, while a low activity potential was observed for Proteobacteria. Of those bacterial families that harbor ice-nucleation active species, which are known to facilitate freezing and may thus be involved in cloud and rain formation, cells with a high activity potential were rare in air, but were enriched in rain.

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