The distribution and relative abundance of ammonia-oxidizing bacteria in lakes of the McMurdo Dry Valley, Antarctica

M. A. Voytek, J. C. Priscu, Bettie Ward

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Marked differences in the concentrations of major ions and cations, macronutrient chemistry and general trophic status exist among the lakes of the McMurdo dry valleys in Antarctica. These differences have been attributed to both variations in stream inputs and in situ lake processes (Priscu, 1995; Lizotte et al., 1996, Spigel and Priscu, 1996). This study examines the role of nitrifying bacteria in nitrogen transformations in these lakes. Applying two polymerase chain reaction (PCR) assays targeting the 16S rRNA genes of ammonia-oxidizing bacteria and the active site of the ammonia monooxygenase gene (amoA), the distribution of ammonia-oxidizers was examined in six Antarctic lakes: Lake Bonney, Lake Hoare, Lake Fryxell and Lake Joyce in the Taylor Valley, Lake Miers in the the Miers Valley and Lake Vanda in the Wright Valley. Using a two stage amplification procedure, ammonia-oxidizers from both the beta and gamma- subclasses of the Proteobacteria were detected and their relative abundances were determined in samples collected from all sites. Ammonia-oxidizers were detected in all lakes sampled. Members of the gamma subclass were only present in the saline lakes. In general, nitrifiers were most abundant at depths above the pycnocline and were usually associated with lower concentrations of NH4 and elevated concentrations of NO3 or NO2. The distribution of nitrifiers suggests that the primary N2O peak observed in most of the lakes was produced via nitrification. Preliminary data on the rate of nitrification (Priscu et al., 1996) support the occurrence of nitrification and the presence of nitrifiers at the depth intervals where nitrifiers were detected. In all lakes, except Lake Miers, the data indicate that nitrifying bacteria have an important role in the vertical distribution of nitrogen compounds in these systems.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)113-130
Number of pages18
StatePublished - May 1 1999

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Aquatic Science


  • Ammonia-oxidizing bacteria
  • Antarctic lakes
  • Family and species specific PCR detection of nitrifying bacteria
  • Nitrification
  • amoA


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