Microbial Organic Matter Utilization in High-Arctic Streams: Key Enzymatic Controls


In the Arctic, climate changes contribute to enhanced mobilization of organic matter in streams. Microbial extracellular enzymes are important mediators of stream organic matter processing, but limited information is available on enzyme processes in this remote area. Here, we studied the variability of microbial extracellular enzyme activity in high-Arctic fluvial biofilms. We evaluated 12 stream reaches in Northeast Greenland draining areas exhibiting different geomorphological features with contrasting contents of soil organic matter to cover a wide range of environmental conditions. We determined stream nitrogen, phosphorus, and dissolved organic carbon concentrations, quantified algal biomass and bacterial density, and characterized the extracellular enzyme activities involved in catalyzing the cleavage of a range of organic matter compounds (e.g., β-glucosidase, phosphatase, β-xylosidase, cellobiohydrolase, and phenol oxidase). We found significant differences in microbial organic matter utilization among the study streams draining contrasting geomorphological features, indicating a strong coupling between terrestrial and stream ecosystems. Phosphatase and phenol oxidase activities were higher in solifluction areas than in alluvial areas. Besides dissolved organic carbon, nitrogen availability was the main driver controlling enzyme activities in the high-Arctic, which suggests enhanced organic matter mineralization at increased nutrient availability. Overall, our study provides novel information on the controls of organic matter usage by high-Arctic stream biofilms, which is of high relevance due to the predicted increase of nutrient availability in high-Arctic streams in global climate change scenarios.

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The authors thank Biobasis, Geobasis, and Zackenberg logistics for assistance at the Zackenberg Research Station. We are grateful to the GeoBasis Programme of the Zackenberg research station and Stefanie Cable for providing DEM and geomorphological data, respectively. Special thanks to Lone J. Ottosen, Malin Camilla Håckansson, and Birgitte Kretzschmar Tagesen for their support in laboratory analysis.


This work was financially supported by the Carlsberg Foundation (grant number CF16-0325). AP has received additional support from the Ramón Areces Foundation postgraduate studies program.

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Pastor, A., Freixa, A., Skovsholt, L.J. et al. Microbial Organic Matter Utilization in High-Arctic Streams: Key Enzymatic Controls. Microb Ecol 78, 539–554 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00248-019-01330-w

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  • Nutrients
  • Biofilm
  • Extracellular enzymes
  • Geomorphology
  • Greenland