Life in the Main Channel: Long-Term Hydrologic Control of Microbial Mat Abundance in McMurdo Dry Valley Streams, Antarctica
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Given alterations in global hydrologic regime, we examine the role of hydrology in regulating stream microbial mat abundance in the McMurdo Dry Valleys, Antarctica. Here, perennial mats persist as a desiccated crust until revived by summer streamflow, which varies inter-annually, and has increased since the 1990s. We predicted high flows to scour mats, and intra-seasonal drying to slow growth. Responses were hypothesized to differ based on mat location within streams, along with geomorphology, which may promote (high coverage) or discourage (low coverage) accrual. We compared hydrologic trends with the biomass of green and orange mats, which grow in the channel, and black mats growing at stream margins for 16 diverse stream transects over two decades. We found mat biomass collectively decreased during first decade coinciding with low flows, and increased following elevated discharges. Green mat biomass showed the greatest correlations with hydrology and was stimulated by discharge in high coverage transects, but negatively correlated in low coverage due to habitat scour. In contrast, orange mat biomass was negatively related to flow in high coverage transects, but positively correlated in low coverage because of side-channel expansion. Black mats were weakly correlated with all hydrologic variables regardless of coverage. Lastly, model selection indicated the best combination of predictive hydrologic variables for biomass differed between mat types, but also high and low coverage transects. These results demonstrate the importance of geomorphology and species composition to modeling primary production, and will be useful in predicting ecological responses of benthic habitats to altered hydrologic regimes.
Keywordsalgae cyanobacteria climate change resilience ecology polar region
Funding was provided by the MCMLTER (OPP-9211773, OPP-9810219, OPP-0096250, OPP-1115245) and National Science Foundation Antarctic Organisms and Ecosystems Program Award #0839020. PHI Helicopters provided essential logistic support during field campaigns. We additionally thank Chris Jaros, Kathy Welch, Hilary Dugan, Eric Parrish, the Teachers Experiencing Antarctica Program, the McKnight lab group, Crary Laboratory personnel, and Asgard Rangers past and present for data collection, project assistance, and helpful suggestions. Comments from the editors and two anonymous reviewers substantially improved the manuscript.
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