The dark side of the moon: first insights into the microbiome structure and function of one of the last glacier-fed streams in Africa

Gregoire Michoud, Tyler J Kohler, Leila Ezzat, Hannes Peter, Juliet Kigongo Nattabi, Rosemary Nalwanga, Paraskevi Pramateftaki, Michail Styllas, Matteo Tolosano, Vincent De Staercke, Martina Schön, Ramona Marasco, Daniele Daffonchio, Massimo Bourquin, Susheel Bhanu Busi, Tom J Battin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The glaciers on Africa's ‘Mountains of the Moon' (Rwenzori National Park, Uganda) are predicted to disappear within the next decades owing to climate change. Consequently, the glacier-fed streams (GFSs) that drain them will vanish, along with their resident microbial communities. Despite the relevance of microbial communities for performing ecosystem processes in equatorial GFSs, their ecology remains understudied. Here, we show that the benthic microbiome from the Mt. Stanley GFS is distinct at several levels from other GFSs. Specifically, several novel taxa were present, and usually common groups such as Chrysophytes and Polaromonas exhibited lower relative abundances compared to higher-latitude GFSs, while cyanobacteria and diatoms were more abundant. The rich primary producer community in this GFS likely results from the greater environmental stability of the Afrotropics, and accordingly, heterotrophic processes dominated in the bacterial community. Metagenomics revealed that almost all prokaryotes in the Mt. Stanley GFS are capable of organic carbon oxidation, while greater than 80% have the potential for fermentation and acetate oxidation. Our findings suggest a close coupling between photoautotrophs and other microbes in this GFS, and provide a glimpse into the future for high-latitude GFSs globally where primary production is projected to increase with ongoing glacier shrinkage.
Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalRoyal Society Open Science
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 9 2023

Bibliographical note

KAUST Repository Item: Exported on 2023-09-06
Acknowledgements: This research was supported by the ‘Vanishing Glaciers Project' from The NOMIS Foundation awarded to T.J.B. S.B.B. was supported by the Synergia grant (CRSII5_180241: Swiss National Science Foundation) to T.J.B. and T.J.K. was further supported by the Charles University project PRIMUS/22/SCI/001 and by the Charles University Research Centre program no. 204069. DD acknowledges the financial support of King Abdullah University and Technology (KAUST) through the baseline research fund. We thank the guides and porters of the Rwenzori Trekking Services that made this fieldwork possible, along with logistical assistance from Prof. Charles Masembe at the Department of Zoology, Entomology and Fisheries (ZEFs) at Makerere University. Furthermore, we thank Thaïs Dupont, Nicola Deluigi and Andrew Robison for additional laboratory and editorial support.

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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