The role of micro invertebrate grazers (rotifers and tardigrades) on the ecology of cryoconite holes (CryoGrazers)

Cryoconite holes are one of the most productive ecosystems on the surface of glaciers. While the bacterial and algal component of these habitats have been well studied, diversity, ecological role and evolutionary history of grazing Metazoans (tardigrades and rotifers) inhabiting these glacier systems are not well understood.

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  • field work


  • terrestrial biology
  • cryosphere

Project Keywords

  • cryosphere / glaciers/ice sheets / glaciers
  • biosphere / terrestrial ecosystems / alpine/tundra
  • biosphere / microbiota taxonomy / bacteria
  • biosphere / microbiota taxonomy

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Unique freshwater environments, called cryoconite holes, occur globally on the surface of glaciers. They are predominantly water filled and frozen throughout the winter and can cover up to 10% of the ablation zone of a glacier. These microhabitats host diverse viral, prokaryotic and eukaryotic life forms and are among the most productive ecosystems in the Polar Regions. The organisms living within the holes are able to cope with cold, dryness, strong winds and low levels of nutrients. Despite the extremes, the communities consist of complex microbial consortia, which include small grazing animals such as rotifers and tardigrades. Whilst the autotrophic and bacterial communities have received considerable attention over the past decade, the grazing predators and their role on the cryoconite community composition and productivity remains an enigma. Rotifers occur in high numbers in cryoconite holes in Petuniabukta glaciers and are likely to play a key role in recycling of nutrients, which is extremely important in sustaining the physiological functioning of the autotrophic and bacterial communities. The aim of this project is to understand the role of small grazing predators (rotifers) on the ecology of the cryoconite holes by assessing their effect on biogeochemical cycling and ecosystem production within the cryoconite communities. Recycling of nitrogen and phosphorus by protozoans can be extremely important in sustaining the physiological functioning of the autotrophic and bacterial communities. Glaciers within Petuniabukta have already been thoroughly studied for this purpose and part of our results have been published (Vonnahme et al. 2016). Preliminary data from Polish colleagues indicate that the rotifer and tardigrade diversity within cryoconite holes is different in southern parts of Spitsbergen and likely elsewhere. We aim to sample cryoconite sediment and proglacial fields in the Hornsund and Belsund area in the summer of 2017 in order to confirm this hypothesis. Samples will be transferred frozen to our laboratory in Czech Republic, where they will be analysed for for molecular diversity, nutrient content and used for productivity experiments. The second aim of the project is understand biogeographical and distribution patters of glacier Metazoa worldwide. We are collecting and analysing samples of glacier sediment and cryoconites from glaciers ranging from the tropics (Africa), temperate regions (Alps, Norway) to the poles (Svalbard). Side note: Jan Pechar and Jiri Stojdl are not investigators but boat skippers and will only go ashore to collect the field members (Marie Sabacka and Karel Janko) by small inflatable boat.

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