Glacial ecosystems

Hodson, A, Anesio, A, Tranter, M, Fountain, A, Osborn, A, Priscu, J, Laybourn-Parr, J and Sattler, B 2008, 'Glacial ecosystems', Ecological Monographs, vol. 78, no. 1, pp. 41-67.


Document type: Journal Article
Collection: Journal Articles

Title Glacial ecosystems
Author(s) Hodson, A
Anesio, A
Tranter, M
Fountain, A
Osborn, A
Priscu, J
Laybourn-Parr, J
Sattler, B
Year 2008
Journal name Ecological Monographs
Volume number 78
Issue number 1
Start page 41
End page 67
Total pages 27
Publisher Ecological Society of America
Abstract There is now compelling evidence that microbially mediated reactions impart a significant effect upon the dynamics, composition, and abundance of nutrients in glacial melt water. Consequently, we must now consider ice masses as ecosystem habitats in their own right and address their diversity, functional potential, and activity as part of alpine and polar environments. Although such research is already underway, its fragmentary nature provides little basis for developing modern concepts of glacier ecology. This paper therefore provides a much‐needed framework for development by reviewing the physical, biogeochemical, and microbiological characteristics of microbial habitats that have been identified within glaciers and ice sheets. Two key glacial ecosystems emerge, one inhabiting the glacier surface (the supraglacial ecosystem) and one at the ice‐bed interface (the subglacial ecosystem). The supraglacial ecosystem is characterized by a diverse consortium of microbes (usually bacteria, algae, phytoflagellates, fungi, viruses and occasional rotifers, tardigrades, and diatoms) within the snowpack, supraglacial streams, and melt pools (cryoconite holes). The subglacial system is dominated by aerobic/anaerobic bacteria and most probably viruses in basal ice/till mixtures and subglacial lakes. A third, so‐called englacial ecosystem is also described, but it is demonstrated that conditions within glacier ice are sufficient to make metabolic activity and its impact upon nutrient dynamics negligible at the glacier scale. Consideration of the surface and internal heat balances of the glacier show that all glacial ecosystems are sensitive to climate change, although at different timescales. Thus, while rapid, melt‐driven habitat changes lead to melt‐out, resuscitation, and redistribution of microorganisms in many supraglacial ecosystems, much slower climatic and glacial mass‐balance processes effect such changes in the subglacial ecosystem. Paradoxically, it is shown that these forces have brought about net refreezing and the onset of cryostasis in the subglacial ecosystems of many Arctic glaciers subject to thinning in recent decades.
Subject Environmental Sciences not elsewhere classified
Environmental Science and Management not elsewhere classified
Keyword(s) Biogeochemistry
Geomicrobiology
Glacier ecology
Glaciology
Ice ecology
Snow ecology
DOI - identifier 10.1890/07-0187.1
Copyright notice © 2008 by the Ecological Society of America
ISSN 0012-9615
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