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Recovery of Antarctic stream epilithon from simulated scouring events

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  17 March 2015

Tyler J. Kohler*
Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research, University of Colorado, 1560 30th Street, Boulder, CO 80303, USA
Ethan Chatfield
Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research, University of Colorado, 1560 30th Street, Boulder, CO 80303, USA
Michael N. Gooseff
Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Colorado State University, 1372 Campus Delivery, Fort Collins, CO 80523, USA
John E. Barrett
Department of Biological Sciences, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, 1405 Perry Street, Blacksburg, VA 24061, USA
Diane M. McKnight
Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research, University of Colorado, 1560 30th Street, Boulder, CO 80303, USA


Microbial mats are common in polar streams and often dominate benthic biomass. Climate change may be enhancing the variability of stream flows in the Antarctic, but so far studies investigating mat responses to disturbance have been limited in this region. Mat regrowth was evaluated following disturbance by experimentally scouring rocks from an ephemeral McMurdo Dry Valley stream over two summers (2001–02 and 2012–13). Mats were sampled at the beginning and resampled at the end of the flow season. In 2012–13, mats were additionally resampled mid-season along with previously undisturbed controls. In 2001–02 rocks regained 47% of chlorophyll a and 40% of ash-free dry mass by the end of the summer, while in 2012–13 rocks regrew 18% and 27%, respectively. Mat stoichiometry differed between summers, and reflected differences in biomass and discharge. Oscillatoria spp. were greatest on scoured rocks and Phormidium spp. on undisturbed rocks. Small diatoms Humidophila and Fistulifera spp. increased throughout the summer in all mats, with the latter more abundant in scoured communities. Collectively, these data suggest that mats are variable intra-annually, responsive to hydrology and require multiple summers to regrow initial biomass once lost. These results will aid the interpretation of long-term data, as well as inform Antarctic Specially Managed Area protocols.

Biological Sciences
© Antarctic Science Ltd 2015 

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