Structure et dynamique des cryo-écosystèmes : plates-formes de glace nordiques

Authors: Mueller, Derek
Advisor: Vincent, Warwick F.
Abstract: This doctoral thesis is the first systematic study of a newly discovered class of extreme ecosystems in the arctic environment: microbial mat communities and their habitats on northern ice shelves. The overarching objective was to examine the structure and dynamics of these cryo-ecosystems at several scales and to examine the interaction between physical and biological aspects on the five major ice shelves found in the Canadian High Arctic. This study made use of a broad range of methods including: microscopic enumeration of algal taxa; quantification of pigments with high performance liquid chromatography; automated over-winter measurements of salinity, irradiance and temperature; helicopter-assisted surveys and sampling; and analysis of satellite imagery. The chemical and physical limnology of the cryo-habitats across this entire ecosystem was found to be heterogeneous and a diverse community of phototrophic microorganisms was found within the microbial mats. Habitat fragmentation was shown to have little effect on the biodiversity of the cryo-ecosystem, however environmental gradients were significantly associated with microbial mat community structure. The hypothesis that ice shelf microbial mat organisms subsist in sub-optimal conditions was tested by examining metabolic responses to changes in salinity, irradiance and temperature. Heterotrophic microbiota were found to be optimized for the extreme conditions prevalent on the ice shelf, whereas photosynthetic micro-organisms tolerated a broader range, suggesting they were extremotrophic (defined by this study as tolerance by microbiota to local conditions but with in situ growth well outside their physiological optima) rather than extremophilic (a more narrow specialization to local conditions, with in situ growth close to physiological maxima). An assemblage of sunscreening and accessory pigments was associated with the autotrophic community, which may account for the extended tolerance range of the extremotrophs. The relationship between microbial mat cover and the surface ablation of the ice shelf was examined and a high concentration of nutrients within the microbial mats indicated that this microenvironment differed greatly from the properties of the bulk ecosystem. These results underscore the importance of biotic-physical coupling on the ice shelf, and in the cryosphere in general. A break-up event on the Ward Hunt Ice Shelf and the drainage of an epishelf lake (ice-dammed freshwater overlying seawater) was discovered during the study period. Further analysis suggested that climate warming contributed to this event, which highlights the vulnerability of ice shelf dependent habitats and their value as indicators of climate change. These cryo-ecosystems also provide new insights into microbial life under extreme polar conditions, with implications for survival, growth and evolution during glacial periods in the past, including the Precambrian Era.
Document Type: Thèse de doctorat
Issue Date: 2005
Open Access Date: 11 April 2018
Grantor: Université Laval
Collection:Thèses et mémoires

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