Microbial mat community assembly in Antarctica

Collecting samples on the McMurdo Ice Shelf. Photo: Anne Jungblut

Each summer, the McMurdo Ice Shelf in Antarctica becomes littered with ponds, as ice and snow thaw, and pool in depressions on its surface. Variable amounts of trapped marine sediments and salt are released, meaning that ponds located within a few meters of each other can be at opposite ends of the scale in terms of salinity and pH. The meltwater ponds are colonised by microbial mats - stratified assemblages of microbial organisms which accumulate slowly and can survive winter freezing.

This project explored how the extreme environments of these ponds can shape the communities residing in them and whether environmental filtering plays a role in the assembly of microbial mat communities. During my Master’s degree, I worked with Anne Jungblut (Natural History Museum, London) and Ian Hawes (University of Waikato), to compare prokaryotic and eukaryotic communities within and between ponds, using 16S and 18S rRNA gene next-generation sequencing and community structure analysis.

Eleanor Jackson
Eleanor Jackson
Ecology PhD student