The disappearing periglacial ecosystem atop Mt. Kilimanjaro supports both cosmopolitan and endemic microbial communities.


Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of Colorado, Boulder, CO, USA. [Email]


Microbial communities have not been studied using molecular approaches at high elevations on the African continent. Here we describe the diversity of microbial communities from ice and periglacial soils from near the summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro by using both Illumina and Sanger sequencing of 16S and 18S rRNA genes. Ice and periglacial soils contain unexpectedly diverse and rich assemblages of Bacteria and Eukarya indicating that there may be high rates of dispersal to the top of this tropical mountain and/or that the habitat is more conducive to microbial life than was previously thought. Most bacterial OTUs are cosmopolitan and an analysis of isolation by geographic distance patterns of the genus Polaromonas emphasized the importance of global Aeolian transport in the assembly of bacterial communities on Kilimanjaro. The eukaryotic communities were less diverse than the bacterial communities and showed more evidence of dispersal limitations and apparent endemism. Cercozoa dominated the 18S communities, including a high abundance of testate amoebae and a high diversity of endemic OTUs within the Vampyrellida. These results argue for more intense study of this unique high-elevation "island of the cryosphere" before the glaciers of Kilimanjaro disappear forever.

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