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Genus richness of microalgae and Cyanobacteria in biological soil crusts from Svalbard and Livingston Island: morphological versus molecular approaches


Biological soil crusts (BSCs) are key components of polar ecosystems. These complex communities are important for terrestrial polar habitats as they include major primary producers that fix nitrogen, prevent soil erosion and can be regarded as indicators for climate change. To study the genus richness of microalgae and Cyanobacteria in BSCs, two different methodologies were employed and the outcomes were compared: morphological identification using light microscopy and the annotation of ribosomal sequences taken from metatranscriptomes. The analyzed samples were collected from Ny-Ålesund, Svalbard, Norway, and the Juan Carlos I Antarctic Base, Livingston Island, Antarctica. This study focused on the following taxonomic groups: Klebsormidiophyceae, Chlorophyceae, Trebouxiophyceae, Xanthophyceae and Cyanobacteria. In total, combining both approaches, 143 and 103 genera were identified in the Arctic and Antarctic samples, respectively. Furthermore, both techniques concordantly determined 15 taxa in the Arctic and 7 taxa in the Antarctic BSC. In general, the molecular analysis indicated a higher microalgal and cyanobacterial genus richness (about 11 times higher) than the morphological approach. In terms of eukaryotic algae, the two sampling sites displayed comparable genus counts while the cyanobacterial genus richness was much higher in the BSC from Ny-Ålesund. For the first time, the presence of the genera Chloroidium, Ankistrodesmus and Dunaliella in polar regions was determined by the metatranscriptomic analysis. Overall, these findings illustrate that only the combination of morphological and molecular techniques, in contrast to one single approach, reveals higher genus richness for complex communities such as polar BSCs.

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This study was funded by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG) within the project ‘Polarcrust’ (BE1779/18-1, KA899/23-1, BU666/17-1) which is part of the Priority Program 1158 ‘Antarctic Research’. We also thank the AWIPEW station, the Instituto Antártico Chileno, the Spanish Antarctic Committee and the Juan Carlos I Antarctic Base for their logistic support. Sampling and research activities were approved by the German authorities (Umwelt Bundesamt: Biological soil crust algae from the polar regions; 24.09.2014).

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Correspondence to Martin Rippin.

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Rippin, M., Borchhardt, N., Williams, L. et al. Genus richness of microalgae and Cyanobacteria in biological soil crusts from Svalbard and Livingston Island: morphological versus molecular approaches. Polar Biol 41, 909–923 (2018).

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  • Biological soil crust
  • Eukaryotic algae
  • Cyanobacteria
  • Morphological identification
  • Metatranscriptomics