Benthic Biofilms in Glacier-Fed Streams from Scandinavia to the Himalayas Host Distinct Bacterial Communities Compared with the Streamwater

Leila Ezzat, Stilianos Fodelianakis, Tyler J Kohler, Massimo Bourquin, Jade Brandani, Susheel Bhanu Busi, Daniele Daffonchio, Vincent De Staercke, Ramona Marasco, Grégoire Michoud, Emmy Oppliger, Hannes Peter, Paraskevi Pramateftaki, Martina Schön, Michail Styllas, Virginia Tadei, Matteo Tolosano, Tom J Battin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


Microbial life in glacier-fed streams (GFSs) is dominated by benthic biofilms which fulfill critical ecosystem processes. However, it remains unclear how the bacterial communities of these biofilms assemble in stream ecosystems characterized by rapid turnover of benthic habitats and high suspended sediment loads. Using16S rRNA gene amplicon sequence data collected from 54 GFSs across the Himalayas, European Alps, and Scandinavian Mountains, we found that benthic biofilms harbor bacterial communities that are distinct from the bacterial assemblages suspended in the streamwater. Our data showed a decrease in species richness in the benthic biofilms compared to the bacterial cells putatively free-living in the water. The benthic biofilms also differed from the suspended water fractions in terms of community composition. Differential abundance analyses highlighted bacterial families that were specific to the benthic biofilms and the suspended assemblages. Notably, source-sink models suggested that the benthic biofilm communities are not simply a subset of the suspended assemblages. Rather, we found evidence that deterministic processes (e.g., species sorting) shape the benthic biofilm communities. This is unexpected given the high vertical mixing of water and contained bacterial cells in GFSs and further highlights the benthic biofilm mode of life as one that is determined through niche-related processes. Our findings therefore reveal a "native" benthic biofilm community in an ecosystem that is currently threatened by climate-induced glacier shrinkage.
Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalApplied and environmental microbiology
StatePublished - Jun 8 2022

Bibliographical note

KAUST Repository Item: Exported on 2022-06-10
Acknowledgements: This work was supported by The NOMIS Foundation project “Vanishing Glaciers” to T.J.B. S.B.B. was supported by the Synergia grant (CRSII5_180241: Swiss National Science Foundation) to T.J.B. D.D. acknowledges the financial support of King Abdullah University and Technology (KAUST) through the baseline research fund. We also thank two anonymous reviewers whose comments greatly improved the manuscript.

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology
  • Applied Microbiology and Biotechnology
  • Food Science
  • Biotechnology


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