Original Paper

Polar Biology

, Volume 36, Issue 2, pp 249-258

First online:

Open Access This content is freely available online to anyone, anywhere at any time.

The distribution of ciliates on Ecology Glacier (King George Island, Antarctica): relationships between species assemblages and environmental parameters

  • Tomasz MieczanAffiliated withDepartment of Hydrobiology, University of Life Sciences Email author 
  • , Dorota GórniakAffiliated withDepartment of Microbiology, University of Warmia and Mazury
  • , Aleksander ŚwiąteckiAffiliated withDepartment of Microbiology, University of Warmia and Mazury
  • , Marek ZdanowskiAffiliated withDepartment of Antarctic Biology, Institute of Biochemistry and Biophysics, Polish Academy of Sciences
  • , Monika Tarkowska-KukurykAffiliated withDepartment of Hydrobiology, University of Life Sciences


Ciliates are important consumers of pico- and nano-sized producers, are nutrient regenerators, and are an important food source for metazoans. To date, ecological research on ciliates has focused on marine ecosystems rather than on glacier habitats. This paper presents the first major study on ciliates from the Ecology Glacier (South Shetland Islands, Antarctica). The objective of the study was to investigate the structure and spatial distribution of ciliate communities and to identify the environmental factors determining the structure of the assemblages. Microbial communities were collected from three habitats: surface snow, cryoconite holes, and glacier streams. Sampling was carried out every 3–4 days from January 17 to February 24, 2012. A total of 18 ciliate taxa were identified. The species richness, abundance, and biomass of protozoa differed significantly between the stations studied with the lowest numbers in streams on the glacier surface and the highest numbers in cryoconite holes. The RDA performed to specify the direct relationships between the abundance of ciliate taxa and environmental variables showed obvious differences between studied habitats. The analysis showed that all variables together explained 62.4 % of total variance. However, variables that significantly explained the variance in ciliate communities in cryoconite holes, snow, and surface streams were temperature, conductivity, and total nitrogen. Further research is required to explain the impact of biotic factors influencing the presence of ciliates, including the abundance of bacteria, microalgae, and small Metazoa.


Ciliates Glaciers Cryoconite holes Antarctica