Soil microbial responses to increased moisture and organic resources along a salinity gradient in a polar desert

David J. Van Horn, Jordan G. Okie, Heather N. Buelow, Michael N. Gooseff, John E. Barrett, Cristina D. Takacs-Vesbach

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

95 Scopus citations


Microbial communities in extreme environments often have low diversity and specialized physiologies suggesting a limited resistance to change. The McMurdo Dry Valleys (MDV) are a microbially dominated, extreme ecosystem currently undergoing climate change-induced disturbances, including the melting of massive buried ice, cutting through of permafrost by streams, and warming events. These processes are increasing moisture across the landscape, altering conditions for soil communities by mobilizing nutrients and salts and stimulating autotrophic carbon inputs to soils. The goal of this study was to determine the effects of resource addition (water/organic matter) on the composition and function of microbial communities in the MDV along a natural salinity gradient representing an additional gradient of stress in an already extreme environment. Soil respiration and the activity of carbon-acquiring extracellular enzymes increased significantly (P < 0.05) with the addition of resources at the low- and moderate-salinity sites but not the high-salinity site. The bacterial community composition was altered, with an increase in Proteobacteria and Firmicutes with water and organic matter additions at the low- and moderate-salinity sites and a near dominance of Firmicutes at the high-salinity site. Principal coordinate analyses of all samples using a phylogenetically informed distance matrix (UniFrac) demonstrated discrete clustering among sites (analysis of similarity [ANOSIM], P < 0.05 and R > 0.40) and among most treatments within sites. The results from this experimental work suggest that microbial communities in this environment will undergo rapid change in response to the altered resources resulting from climate change impacts occurring in this region.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3034-3043
Number of pages10
JournalApplied and environmental microbiology
Issue number10
StatePublished - May 1 2014
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biotechnology
  • Food Science
  • Applied Microbiology and Biotechnology
  • Ecology


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