Pond diatom communities from the McMurdo Sound region of Antarctica, assessed from modern samples (2012-2016) and from historical samples collected during Shackleton’s Nimrod Expedition (1908-1909)


We performed a field survey to characterize diatom communities living in the benthic microbial mats of ponds across the McMurdo Sound region of Antarctica. Samples were collected during the Austral summers of 2012-13, 2013-14, and 2015-16 from the McMurdo Dry Valleys, Cape Royds, and from Hut Ridge near McMurdo Station. We also characterized pond diatom communities in samples collected on various dates from 1908-1909 during Ernest Shackleton’s Nimrod Expedition to compare against modern samples. Historical samples were taken from Cape Royds and the Stranded Moraines, and were analyzed from slides stored at the Natural History Museum, London. This data package includes relative abundance data for diatom species found in these modern and historical samples.

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We sampled pond microbial mats from the McMurdo Dry Valleys and Ross Island, Antarctica, using a brass cork borer. Samples were preserved in ~5% formalin (final concentration), and shipped to the University of Colorado for analysis. Samples were digested using heat and hydrogen peroxide (H2O2) and rinsed several times with MilliQ water until a neutral pH was achieved. Digested material was dried onto cover slips and permanently mounted on glass microscope slides with Zrax® (W. P. Dailey, University of Pennsylvania) mounting medium and analyzed by light microscope at 1250x magnification. We also analyzed 14 of the original West & West (1911) microscope slides prepared from material collected during Shackelton’s Nimrod expedition, and are stored at The Natural History Museum, London. Because of the preparation method used in making the historical slides (some had thick coverslips), several of these historical slides were counted at 650 or 850x (eg. Green Lake, Lake West side of McMurdo). For both modern and historical material, at least 300 valves were counted from each slide, and relative abundance of species were calculated (slides were also scanned afterward for rare species). Scanning electron microscopy (SEM) images were made from some contemporary samples at the Charles University in Prague after being air-dried onto aluminum stubs, which were then sputter-coated with 50 nm of Au and photographed on a JEOL JSM-6380LV at 25 kV. Diatom taxonomic identifications were performed according to the species list in Sakaeva et al. (2016), the Antarctic Freshwater Diatoms database, along with the original West and West (1911) publication.

Sakaeva, A., Sokol, E.R., Kohler, T.J., Stanish, L.F., Spaulding, S.A., Howkins, A., Welch, K.A., Lyons, W.B., Barrett, J.E. and McKnight, D.M. 2016. Evidence for dispersal and habitat controls on pond diatom communities from the McMurdo Sound Region of Antarctica. Polar Biology 39(12): 2441-2456. doi: 10.1007/s00300-016-1901-6

West, W. and West, G.S. 1911. Freshwater algae. British Antarctic Expedition (1907–1909) Science Report, Biology 1: 263-298.

Additional information: 

The modern (21st century) samples in the dataset have been previously published in Sakaeva et al. (2016) and Verleyen et al. (2021).

Sakaeva A., E.R. Sokol, T.J. Kohler, L.F. Stanish, S.A. Spaulding, A. Howkins, K.A. Welch, W.B. Lyons, J.E. Barrett, and D.M. McKnight. (2016). Evidence for dispersal and habitat controls on pond diatom communities from the McMurdo Sound Region of Antarctica. Polar Biology 39(12): 2441-2456. doi: 10.1007/s00300-016-1901-6 (erratum doi: 10.1007/s00300-016-1944-8)

Verleyen, E., B. Van de Vijver, B. Tytgat, E. Pinseel, D.A. Hodgson, K. Kopalová, S.L. Chown, E. Van Ranst, S. Imura, S. Kudoh, W. Van Nieuwenhuyze, ANTDIAT consortium, K. Sabbe, and W. Vyverman. (In press). Diatoms define a novel freshwater biogeography of the Antarctic. Ecography 44. doi: 10.1111/ecog.05374

Funding for this work was provided by the National Science Foundation Grant #OPP-1637708 for Long Term Ecological Research.


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