Arctic microbial ecosystems and impacts of climate change


  • Vincent, W.F.
  • Whyte, L.G.
  • Greer, C.W.
  • Laurion, I.
  • Suttle, C.
  • Lovejoy, C.
  • Corbeil, J.
  • Mueller, D.R.




As a contribution to the International Polar Year program MERGE (Microbiological and Ecological Responses to Global Environmental change in polar regions), studies were conducted on the terrestrial and aquatic microbial ecosystems of northern Canada (details at: The habitats included permafrost soils, saline coldwater springs, supraglacial lakes on ice shelves, epishelf lakes in fjords, deep meromictic lakes, and shallow lakes, ponds and streams. Microbiological samples from each habitat were analysed by HPLC pigment assays, light and fluorescence microscopy, and DNA sequencing. The results show a remarkably diverse microflora of viruses, Archaea (including ammonium oxidisers and methanotrophs), Bacteria (including filamentous sulfur-oxidisers in a saline spring and benthic mats of Cyanobacteria in many waterbodies), and protists (including microbial eukaryotes in snowbanks and ciliates in ice-dammed lakes). In summer 2008, we recorded extreme warming at Ward Hunt Island and vicinity, the northern limit of the Canadian high Arctic, with air temperatures up to 20.5 °C. This was accompanied by pronounced changes in microbial habitats: deepening of the permafrost active layer; loss of perennial lake ice and sea ice; loss of ice-dammed freshwater lakes; and 23% loss of total ice shelf area, including complete break-up and loss of the Markham Ice Shelf cryo-ecosystem. These observations underscore the vulnerability of Arctic microbial ecosystems to ongoing climate change.


  • Arctic;
  • Biodiversity;
  • Climate change;
  • Ecosystems;
  • Ice;
  • Microbiology;
  • Permafrost



Peer Review: 

Published in Peer Reviewed Journal

Faculty Name: 

Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences

Department Name: 

Department of Geography and Environmental Studies

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