I’m really excited (and relieved) to report that my review on the taxonomy and function of sea ice microbial communities was recently published in the journal Elementa. The review is part of a series on biological exchange processes at the sea ice interface, by the SCOR working group of the same name (BEPSII). I’m deeply appreciative of Nadja Steiner, Lisa Miller*, Jaqueline Stefels, and the other senior members of BEPSII for letting (very) junior scientists take such an active role in the working group. I conceived the review in a foggy haze last year while writing my dissertation, when I assumed that there would be “plenty of time” for that kind of project before starting my postdoc. Considering that I didn’t even start aggregating the necessary data until I got to Lamont I’m also deeply appreciative of my postdoctoral advisor for supporting this effort…
The review is really half review, half meta-analysis of existing sea ice data. The first bit, which draws heavily on the introduction to my dissertation, describes some of the history of sea ice microbial ecology (which goes back to at least 1918 for prokaryotes). From there the review moves into an analysis of the taxonomic composition of the sea ice microbial community, based on existing 16S rRNA gene sequence data, takes a look at patterns of bacterial and primary production in sea ice, and then uses PAPRICA to infer metabolic function for the observed microbial taxa (after 97 years we still don’t have any metagenomes for sea ice – let alone metatranscriptomes – and precious few isolates).
There is a lot of info in this paper but I hope a few big points make it across. First, we have a massive geographical bias in our sea ice samples. This is to be expected, but I don’t think we should just accept it as what has to be. More disconcerting, there has been very little effort to integrate physiological measures in sea ice (such as bacterial production) with analyses of microbial community structure. A major exception is the work of the Kaartokallio group at the Finnish Environmental Group, but their work has primarily taken place in the Baltic Sea (an excellent system, but very different from the high Arctic and coastal Antarctic). This all translates into work that needs to be done however, which is a good thing… we are just barely at the point where we can make reasonable hypothesis regarding the functions of these communities.
*This image of Lisa pops up a lot. If you can identify what, exactly, is going on in this picture I’ll buy you a beer.