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Bacterial community structure in a sympagic habitat expanding with global warming: brackish ice brine at 85–90 °N


Larger volumes of sea ice have been thawing in the Central Arctic Ocean (CAO) during the last decades than during the past 800,000 years. Brackish brine (fed by meltwater inside the ice) is an expanding sympagic habitat in summer all over the CAO. We report for the first time the structure of bacterial communities in this brine. They are composed of psychrophilic extremophiles, many of them related to phylotypes known from Arctic and Antarctic regions. Community structure displayed strong habitat segregation between brackish ice brine (IB; salinity 2.4–9.6) and immediate sub-ice seawater (SW; salinity 33.3–34.9), expressed at all taxonomic levels (class to genus), by dominant phylotypes as well as by the rare biosphere, and with specialists dominating IB and generalists SW. The dominant phylotypes in IB were related to Candidatus Aquiluna and Flavobacterium, those in SW to Balneatrix and ZD0405, and those shared between the habitats to Halomonas, Polaribacter and Shewanella. A meta-analysis for the oligotrophic CAO showed a pattern with Flavobacteriia dominating in melt ponds, Flavobacteriia and Gammaproteobacteria in solid ice cores, Flavobacteriia, Gamma- and Betaproteobacteria, and Actinobacteria in brine, and Alphaproteobacteria in SW. Based on our results, we expect that the roles of Actinobacteria and Betaproteobacteria in the CAO will increase with global warming owing to the increased production of meltwater in summer. IB contained three times more phylotypes than SW and may act as an insurance reservoir for bacterial diversity that can act as a recruitment base when environmental conditions change.

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We warmly thank the Swedish Polar Research Secretariat ( and the crew of RV Oden for their assistance with sampling and further help with practical matters before and during the LOMROG III cruise. We thank Lars Cresten Lund-Hansen and Brian K. Sorrell for drilling holes in the ice and Brenda Riquelme for laboratory assistance. This work was supported by grants from the Swedish research foundations VR (SWEDARCTIC 2011-2015), FORMAS (2012-1459) and the Carl Trygger Foundation for Scientific Research to PSL. Analyses and travels of BD and LF were supported by grants from the Chilean research foundations CONICYT (FONDAP 15110009 and DPI20140044 to BD, Postdoctorado 2014 N° 3140422 to BFG) and INACH (15-10 to BD, FP_03-13 to BFG, MT_01-12 to CS), CONICYT (Master Program) to CS, FONDECYT (1120719) to LF, and PFB-023 and ICM P05-002 to PM. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish or preparation of the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Beatriz Díez.

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