Ecosystem dynamics and temporal variations in a microbially dominated, coastal antarctic lake
This study investigated the microbial ecology of Pony Lake, Antarctica. The main objectives of this research were to 1) characterize physicochemical parameters in Pony Lake during the transition from ice covered to ice free, 2) highlight seasonal and inter-seasonal alterations in lake parameters, 3) relate the physicochemical conditions in the ice and water column to microbial processes and community structure, 4) characterize the effects of phototransformation of dissolved organic matter (DOM) on its bioavailability to bacteria, and 5) demonstrate the role of carotenoid pigments in protecting cells against environmental stresses. Also included are results from three McMurdo Dry Valley lakes on the survivability of microbes encapsulated within the lake ice covers. The results of this study highlight the sensitivity of Antarctic environments and the close coupling of environmental conditions and biological processes. Inter-seasonal differences in weather conditions and snow accumulation strongly affected the physicochemistry of this lacustrine system. Biological processes were closely tied to the physicochemical lake conditions. As a consequence planktonic abundances, production rates, and community structure evolved distinctly in each year. Bacterial production was regulated by the quality of DOM. Whereas nutrient availability appeared to play a minor role in eutrophic Pony Lake water, it became more critical for microbial communities found within the ice column of Antarctic lakes. Especially in the ice cover of the McMurdo Dry Valley lakes, enhanced microbial diversity and survivability was associated with particles (nutrient enriched micro-zones) within an otherwise ultra-oligotrophic habitat. In Pony Lake ice, microbial activity and community structure differed with respect to different strata within the ice column, induced by freeze-concentration of solutes, bioavailability of DOM, and oxygen gradients. A comparison of carotenoid pigmented and non-pigmented heterotrophic bacteria indicated that pigmentation provides enhanced resistance to environmental stresses such as freeze-thaw cycles or solar radiation. Collectively, the Pony Lake data demonstrated that microorganisms that persist throughout the year were able to survive much more severe conditions while entrapped within the ice compared to those observed in the lake water during summer months. Further, this study contributes to a better understanding of the biogeochemical carbon cycle in a microbially dominated system.