Title Growth of cyanobacterial soil crusts during diurnal freeze-thaw cycles
Author Steven K. Schmidt* and Lara Vimercati
Address Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of Colorado, Boulder, CO, 80309, USA
Bibliography Journal of Microbiology, 57(4),243–251, 2019,
DOI 10.1007/s12275-019-8359-5
Key Words biological soil crusts, Nostoc commune, terraforming Mars, extremophiles, glacier retreat, soil stabilization, BSCs, astrobiology
Abstract Various Nostoc spp. and related cyanobacteria are able to survive extreme temperatures and are among the most successful colonists of high-elevation sites being exposed due to glacial retreat. It is unclear, however, if cyanobacteria can grow during the extreme freeze-thaw cycles that occur on a yearround basis at high-elevation, peri-glacial sites or if they only grow during the rare periods when freeze-thaw cycles do not occur. We conducted several experiments to determine if cyanobacteria that form biological soil crusts (BSCs) at highelevation sites (> 5,000 m.a.s.l.) in the Andes can grow during diurnal freeze-thaw cycles on a par with those that occur in the field. Here we show that a soil crust that had been frozen at -20°C for five years was able to increase from 40% to 100% soil coverage during a 45-day incubation during which the soil temperature cycled between -12°C and 26°C every day. In a second, experiment an undeveloped soil with no visible BSCs showed a statistically significant shift in the bacterial community from one containing few cyanobacterial sequences (8% of sequences) to one dominated (27%) by Nostoc, Microcoleus, and Leptolyngbya phylotypes during a 77-day incubation with daily freeze-thaw cycles. In addition, counts of spherical Nostoc-like colonies increased significantly on the soil surface during the experiment, especially in microcosms receiving phosphorus. Taken together these results show that freeze-thaw cycles alone do not limit the growth of BSCs in high-elevation soils, and provide new insight into how life is able to thrive in one of the most extreme terrestrial environments on Earth.