Large-scale environmental controls on microbial biofilms in high-alpine streams
Abstract. Glaciers are highly responsive to global warming and important agents of landscape heterogeneity. While it is well established that glacial ablation and snowmelt regulate stream discharge, linkage among streams and streamwater geochemistry, the controls of these factors on stream microbial biofilms remain insufficiently understood. We investigated glacial (metakryal, hypokryal), groundwater-fed (krenal) and snow-fed (rhithral) streams - all of them representative for alpine stream networks - and present evidence that these hydrologic and hydrogeochemical factors differentially affect sediment microbial biofilms. Average microbial biomass and bacterial carbon production were low in the glacial streams, whereas bacterial cell size, biomass, and carbon production were higher in the tributaries, most notably in the krenal stream. Whole-cell in situ fluorescence hybridization revealed reduced detection rates of the Eubacteria and higher abundance of α-Proteobacteria in the glacial stream, a pattern that most probably reflects the trophic status of this ecosystem. Our data suggest low flow during the onset of snowmelt and autumn as a short period (hot moment) of favorable environmental conditions with pulsed inputs of allochthonous nitrate and dissolved organic carbon, and with disproportionately high microbial growth. Tributaries are relatively more constant and favorable environments than kryal streams, and serve as possible sources of microbes and organic matter to the main glacial channel during periods (e.g., snowmelt) of elevated hydrologic linkage among streams. Ice and snow dynamics - and their impact on the amount and composition of dissolved organic matter - have a crucial impact on stream biofilms, and we thus need to consider microbes and critical hydrological episodes in future models of alpine stream communities.