Microbial Ecology of Snow Reveals Taxa-Specific Biogeographical Structure

  • Shawn P. BrownEmail author
  • Ari Jumpponen
Environmental Microbiology


Snows that persist late into the growing season become colonized with numerous metabolically active microorganisms, yet underlying mechanisms of community assembly and dispersal remain poorly known. We investigated (Illumina MiSeq) snow-borne bacterial, fungal, and algal communities across a latitudinal gradient in Fennoscandia and inter-continental distribution between northern Europe and North America. Our data indicate that bacterial communities are ubiquitous regionally (across Fennoscandia), whereas fungal communities are regionally heterogeneous. Both fungi and bacteria are biogeographically heterogeneous inter-continentally. Snow algae, generally thought to occur in colorful algae blooms (red, green, or yellow) on the snow surface, are molecularly described here as an important component of snows even in absence of visible algal growth. This suggests that snow algae are a previously underestimated major biological component of visually uncolonized snows. In contrast to fungi and bacteria, algae exhibit no discernible inter-continental or regional community structure and exhibit little endemism. These results indicate that global and regional snow microbial communities and their distributions may be dictated by a combination of size-limited propagule dispersal potential and restrictions (bacteria and fungi) and homogenization of ecologically specialized taxa (snow algae) across the globe. These results are among the first to compare inter-continental snow microbial communities and highlight how poorly understood microbial communities in these threatened ephemeral ecosystems are.


Snow Snow algae Fungi Bacteria Biogeography Nival microbiology 



We express great thanks to Francesco Gentili (SLU Umeå) for assistance in sample processing, and to Mary Brown, Vera Brown, and Lyndon Brown for assistance in collection of North American samples. We also greatly thank Unto Jumpponen for providing transportation logistical support, and Rauni Strömmer and Martin Romanchuk (University of Helsinki-Lahti) for use of laboratory space. This work was partially funded through an American-Scandinavian Fellowship (SPB), a Kansas Academy of Sciences grant (SPB), and a US Department of Education Graduate Assistance in Areas of National Need (GAANN) training program.

Supplementary material

248_2019_1357_MOESM1_ESM.xlsx (10 kb)
Table S1 Primer and MID sequences used to amplify Eukaryotic (fungal and algal) and bacterial communities. (XLSX 9 kb)
248_2019_1357_MOESM2_ESM.xlsx (16 kb)
Table S2 Summarized breakdown of fungal, bacterial and algal OTU taxonomic distribution presenting OTU counts, sequence counts and percentages of these counts for Phyla and Class taxonomic ranks. (XLSX 16 kb)
248_2019_1357_MOESM3_ESM.xlsx (243 kb)
Table S3 Full taxonomic breakdown of OTUs along with sequence counts and boot strap support for taxonomic ranks for Fungi and Bacteria. Also presented are best BLAST results for select fungi and all algae along with closes GenBank accessions. (XLSX 242 kb)
248_2019_1357_MOESM4_ESM.xlsx (12 kb)
Table S4 Core OTUs (OTUs found in all or all but one sample globally) for Algae, Bacteria, and Fungi along with assigned Genera for these OTUs. See Table S3 for full taxonomic identifications. (XLSX 12 kb)
248_2019_1357_MOESM5_ESM.xlsx (20 kb)
Table S5 Significant Indicator Taxa (based on Indicator Taxa analysis) for Algal, Bacterial, and Fugal OTUs along Indicative Groups (transects from Table 1), Indicator Value, Mean and Standard Deviation from 9999 permutations, and P-values for indicative calls. (XLSX 19 kb)
248_2019_1357_MOESM6_ESM.docx (212 kb)
ESM 6 (DOCX 211 kb)


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Biological SciencesThe University of MemphisMemphisUSA
  2. 2.Division of BiologyKansas State UniversityManhattanUSA

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