Biodiversity of biological soil crusts from the Polar Regions revealed by metabarcoding

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Biological soil crusts (BSCs) are amalgamations of autotrophic, heterotrophic and saprotrophic organisms. In the Polar Regions, these unique communities occupy essential ecological functions such as primary production, nitrogen fixation and ecosystem engineering. Here, we present the first molecular survey of BSCs from the Arctic and Antarctica focused on both eukaryotes and prokaryotes as well as passive and active biodiversity. Considering sequence abundance, Bryophyta is among the most abundant taxa in all analyzed BSCs suggesting that they were in a late successional stage. In terms of algal and cyanobacterial biodiversity, the genera Chloromonas, Coccomyxa, Elliptochloris and Nostoc were identified in all samples regardless of origin confirming their ubiquitous distribution. For the first time, we found the chrysophyte Spumella to be common in polar BSCs as it was present in all analyzed samples. Co-occurrence analysis revealed the presence of sulfur metabolizing microbes indicating that BSCs also play an important role for the sulfur cycle. In general, phototrophs were most abundant within the BSCs but there was also a diverse community of heterotrophs and saprotrophs. Our results show that BSCs are unique microecosystems in polar environments with an unexpectedly high biodiversity.

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