Microbial community structure in major habitats above 6000 m on Mount Everest


Bacterial abundance in surface snow between 6600 and 8000 m a.s.l. on the northern slope of Mt. Everest was investigated by flow cytometry. Bacterial diversity in serac ice at 6000 m a.s.l., glacier meltwater at 6350 m, and surface snow at 6600 m a.s.l. was examined by constructing a 16S rRNA gene clone library. Bacterial abundance in snow was higher than that in the Antarctic but similar to other mountain regions in the world. Bacterial abundance in surface snow increased with altitude but showed no correlation with chemical parameters. Bacteria in the cryosphere on Mt. Everest were closely related to those isolated from soil, aquatic environments, plants, animals, humans and other frozen environments. Bacterial community structures in major habitats above 6000 m were variable. The Cytophaga-Flavobacterium-Bacteroides (CFB) group absolutely dominated in glacial meltwater, while β-Proteobacteria and the CFB group dominated in serac ice, and β-Proteobacteria and Actinobacteria dominated in surface snow. The remarkable differences among the habitats were most likely due to the bacterial post-deposition changes during acclimation processes.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.


  1. 1

    Ren J W, Qin D H, Kang S C, et al. Glacier variations and climate warming and drying in the central Himalayas. Chin Sci Bull, 2004, 49(1): 65–69

    Article  Google Scholar 

  2. 2

    Hou S, Qin D, Wake C P, et al. Changes in net accumulation from ice core records in Mt. Everest and its climatological significance. Chin Sci Bull, 1999, 44(21): 2336–2342

    Google Scholar 

  3. 3

    Kang S, Mayewski P A, Qin D, et al. Glaciochemical records from a Mt. Everest ice core: Relationship to atmospheric circulation over Asia. Atmos Environ, 2002, 36(21): 3351–3361

    Article  Google Scholar 

  4. 4

    Kang S C, Mayewski P A, Qin D H, et al. Seasonal differences in snow chemistry from the vicinity of Mt. Everest, central Himalayas. Atmos Environ, 2004, 38(18): 2819–2829

    Article  Google Scholar 

  5. 5

    Kang S C, Mayewski P A, Qin D H, et al. Twentieth century increase of atmospheric ammonia recorded in Mount Everest ice core. J Geophys Res, 2002, 107(D21): 4595; doi: 10.1029/2001JD001413, ACL13-1-ACL13-9

    Article  Google Scholar 

  6. 6

    Kang S, Qin D, Mayewski P A, et al. Climatic and environmental records from the Far East Rongbuk ice core, Mt. Qomolangma (Everest). Episodes, 2001, 24(3): 176–181

    Google Scholar 

  7. 7

    Qin D, Mayewski P A, Wake C P. Evidence for recent climate change from ice cores in the central Himalayas. Ann Glaciol, 2000, 31: 153–158

    Google Scholar 

  8. 8

    Yoshimura Y, Kohshima S, Ohtani S. A community of snow algae on Himalayan glacier: Change of algal biomass and community structure with altitude. Arct Alpine Res, 1997, 29(1): 126–137

    Article  Google Scholar 

  9. 9

    Baghel V S, Tripathi R D, Ramteke P W, et al. Psychrotrophic proteolytic bacteria from cold environment of Gangotri glacier, Western Himalaya, India. Enzyme Microbiol Technol, 2005, 36(5–6): 654–659

    Article  Google Scholar 

  10. 10

    Liu Y, Yao T, Kang S, et al. Seasonal variation of snow microbial community structure in the East Rongbuk glacier, Mt. Everest. Chin Sci Bull, 2006, 51(12): 1476–1486

    Article  Google Scholar 

  11. 11

    Battin T J, Wille A, Psenner R, et al. Large-scale environmental controls on microbial biofilms in high-alpine streams. Biogeosciences, 2004, 1(2): 159–171

    Article  Google Scholar 

  12. 12

    Carrillo P, Medina-Sanchez J M, Villar-Argaiz M. The interaction of phytoplankton and bacteria in a high mountain lake: Importance of the spectral composition of solar radiation. Limno Oceano, 2002, 47(5): 1294–1306

    Article  Google Scholar 

  13. 13

    Medina-Sanchez J M, Villar-Argaiz M, Carrillo P. Neither with nor without you: A complex algal control on bacterioplankton in a high mountain lake. Limno Oceano, 2004, 49(5): 1722–1733

    Article  Google Scholar 

  14. 14

    Segawa T, Miyamoto K, Ushida K, et al. Seasonal change in bacterial flora and biomass in mountain snow from the Tateyama Mountains, Japan, analyzed by 16S rRNA gene sequencing and real-time PCR. Appl Environ Microbiol, 2005, 71(1): 123–130

    Article  Google Scholar 

  15. 15

    Giorgi F, Hurrell J W, Marinucci M R, et al. Elevation dependency of the surface climate change signal: A model study. J Clim, 1997, 10(2): 288–296

    Article  Google Scholar 

  16. 16

    Kemp P F, Aller J Y. Bacterial diversity in aquatic and other environments: What 16S rDNA libraries can tell us. FEMS Microbiol Ecol, 2004, 47(2): 161–177

    Article  Google Scholar 

  17. 17

    Cole J R, Chai B, Farris R J, et al. The Ribosomal Database Project (RDP-II): Sequences and tools for high-throughput rRNA analysis. Nucl Acids Res, 2005, 33(suppl_1): D294–296

    Google Scholar 

  18. 18

    Hamilton W D, Lenton T M. Spora and Gaia: How microbes fly with their clouds. Ethol Ecol Evolution, 1998, 10(1): 1–16

    Google Scholar 

  19. 19

    Sattler B, Puxbaum H, Psenner R. Bacterial growth in supercooled cloud droplets. Geoph Res Lett, 2001, 28(2): 239–242

    Article  Google Scholar 

  20. 20

    Zhang X, Yao T, An L Z, et al. A study on the veritcal profile of bacterial DNA structure in the Puruogangri (Tibetan Plateau) ice core using denaturing gradient gel electrophoresis. Ann Glaciol, 2006, 43: 160–166

    Google Scholar 

  21. 21

    Yao T D, Xiang S R, Zhang X J, et al. Microorganisms in the Malan ice core and their relation to climatic and environmental changes. Glob Biogeochem Cycl, 2006, 20(1): GB1004

    Article  Google Scholar 

  22. 22

    Carpenter E J, Lin S, Capone D G. Bacterial activity in South Pole snow. Appl Environ Microbiol, 2000, 66(10): 4514–4517

    Article  Google Scholar 

  23. 23

    Garrison D L, Sulivan C W, Ackley S F. Sea ice microbial communities in Antarctica. Bioscience, 1986, 36: 243–250

    Article  Google Scholar 

  24. 24

    Christner B C, Mosley-Thompson E, Thompson L G, et al. Recovery and identification of viable bacteria immured in glacial ice. Icarus, 2000, 144(2): 479–485

    Article  Google Scholar 

  25. 25

    Xiang S, Yao T, An L, et al. Change of bacterial community in the Malan Ice Core and its relation to climate and environment. Chin Sci Bull, 2004, 49(17): 1869–1875

    Article  Google Scholar 

  26. 26

    Xiang S, Yao T, An L, et al. 16S rRNA sequences and differences in bacteria isolated from the Muztag Ata Glacier at increasing depths. Sci China Ser D-Earth Sci, 2005, 35(3): 252–262

    Google Scholar 

  27. 27

    Zhang X, Ma X, Yao T, et al. Diversity of 16S rDNA and environ-mental factor influencing microorganisms in Malan ice core. Chin Sci Bull, 2003, 48(11): 1146–1150

    Article  Google Scholar 

  28. 28

    Zhu F, Wang S, Zhou P J. Flavobacterium xinjiangense sp nov and Flavobacterium omnivorum sp nov., novel psychrophiles from the China No. 1 glacier. Int J Syst Evol Microbiol, 2003, 53: 853–857

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information



Corresponding authors

Correspondence to TanDong Yao or NianZhi Jiao.

Additional information

Supported by the Ministry of Science and Technology of China (Grant No. 2005CB422004), the National Natural Science Foundation of China (Grant Nos. 40121101 and 40401054), the Innovation Program (Grant No. KZCX3-SW-339), and the “Talent Project” of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, the Social Commonweal Research Project of Ministry of Science and Technology of China (2005DIA3J106)

About this article

Cite this article

Liu, Y., Yao, T., Kang, S. et al. Microbial community structure in major habitats above 6000 m on Mount Everest. CHINESE SCI BULL 52, 2350–2357 (2007). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11434-007-0360-4

Download citation


  • Mt. Everest
  • bacterial abundance
  • 16S rRNA
  • above 6000 m