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Water track modification of soil ecosystems in the Lake Hoare basin, Taylor Valley, Antarctica

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  10 July 2013

Joseph S. Levy*
College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences, Oregon State University, Corvallis, OR 97331, USA
Andrew G. Fountain
Department of Geology, Portland State University, Portland, OR 97210, USA
Michael N. Gooseff
Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA 16802, USA
J.E. Barrett
Department of Biological Sciences, Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, VA 24061, USA
Robert Vantreese
Department of Land Resources and Environmental Sciences, Montana State University, Bozeman, MT 59717, USA
Kathy A. Welch
Byrd Polar Research Centre and the School of Earth Sciences, Ohio State University, Columbus, OH 43210, USA
W. Berry Lyons
The School of Earth Sciences and Byrd Polar Research Centre, Ohio State University, Columbus, OH 43210, USA
Uffe N. Nielsen
Hawkesbury Institute for the Environment and School of Science and Health, University of Western Sydney, Penrith, NSW 2751, Australia Natural Resource Ecology Laboratory and Department of Biology, Colorado State University, Fort Collins, CO 80523, USA
Diana H. Wall
Natural Resource Ecology Laboratory and Department of Biology, Colorado State University, Fort Collins, CO 80523, USA


Water tracks are zones of high soil moisture that route shallow groundwater down-slope, through the active layer and above the ice table. A water track in Taylor Valley, McMurdo Dry Valleys, was analysed for surface hydrogeological, geochemical, and biological characteristics in order to test the hypothesis that water tracks provide spatial structure to Antarctic soil ecosystems by changing the physical conditions in the soil environment within the water tracks from those outside the water tracks. The presence of the water track significantly affected the distribution of biotic and abiotic ecosystem parameters: increasing soil moisture, soil salinity, and soil organic matter within the water track relative to soils outside the water track, and reducing soil phosphate, soil pH, and the population of nematodes and other invertebrates in water track soils relative to off track soils. These results suggest that water tracks are distinct and extreme ecological zones in Taylor Valley that provide long-range (kilometre to multi- kilometre) structure to Antarctic hillslope ecosystems through physical control on soil moisture and solute content. Contrary to expectations, these high soil-moisture sites are not hotspots for faunal biological activity because high soil salinity makes them suitable habitats for only the most halo-tolerant organisms.

Biological Sciences
Copyright © Antarctic Science Ltd 2013 

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Current address: University of Texas Institute for Geophysics, Austin, TX 78758, USA


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