Microbial Ecology

, Volume 63, Issue 1, pp 74–84 | Cite as

Environmental Controls on Microbial Abundance and Activity on the Greenland Ice Sheet: A Multivariate Analysis Approach

  • Marek Stibal
  • Jon Telling
  • Joe Cook
  • Ka Man Mak
  • Andy Hodson
  • Alexandre M. Anesio
Environmental Microbiology


Microbes in supraglacial ecosystems have been proposed to be significant contributors to regional and possibly global carbon cycling, and quantifying the biogeochemical cycling of carbon in glacial ecosystems is of great significance for global carbon flow estimations. Here we present data on microbial abundance and productivity, collected along a transect across the ablation zone of the Greenland ice sheet (GrIS) in summer 2010. We analyse the relationships between the physical, chemical and biological variables using multivariate statistical analysis. Concentrations of debris-bound nutrients increased with distance from the ice sheet margin, as did both cell numbers and activity rates before reaching a peak (photosynthesis) or a plateau (respiration, abundance) between 10 and 20 km from the margin. The results of productivity measurements suggest an overall net autotrophy on the GrIS and support the proposed role of ice sheet ecosystems in carbon cycling as regional sinks of CO2 and places of production of organic matter that can be a potential source of nutrients for downstream ecosystems. Principal component analysis based on chemical and biological data revealed three clusters of sites, corresponding to three ‘glacier ecological zones’, confirmed by a redundancy analysis (RDA) using physical data as predictors. RDA using data from the largest ‘bare ice zone’ showed that glacier surface slope, a proxy for melt water flow, accounted for most of the variation in the data. Variation in the chemical data was fully explainable by the determined physical variables. Abundance of phototrophic microbes and their proportion in the community were identified as significant controls of the carbon cycling-related microbial processes.


Soluble Reactive Phosphorus Ablation Zone Microbial Abundance Glacier Surface Debris Coverage 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



This research was supported by the Marie Curie Reintegration Grant 249171 (ProGrIS) to MS and by the UK Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) grant NE/G00496X/1 to AMA. People at Camp Doom and Camp Famine are thanked for field assistance. Two anonymous reviewers are thanked for their insightful comments and criticisms.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Marek Stibal
    • 1
  • Jon Telling
    • 1
  • Joe Cook
    • 2
  • Ka Man Mak
    • 1
  • Andy Hodson
    • 2
  • Alexandre M. Anesio
    • 1
  1. 1.Bristol Glaciology Centre, School of Geographical SciencesUniversity of BristolBristolUK
  2. 2.Department of GeographyUniversity of SheffieldSheffieldUK

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