Microorganisms in the atmosphere over Antarctica

David Pearce, Paul Bridge, Kevin Hughes, Birgit Sattler, Roland Psenner, Nick Russell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

145 Citations (Scopus)


Antarctic microbial biodiversity is the result of a balance between evolution, extinction and colonization, and so it is not possible to gain a full understanding of the microbial biodiversity of a location, its biogeography, stability or evolutionary relationships without some understanding of the input of new biodiversity from the aerial environment. In addition, it is important to know whether the microorganisms already present are transient or resident – this is particularly true for the Antarctic environment, as selective pressures for survival in the air are similar to those that make microorganisms suitable for Antarctic colonization. The source of potential airborne colonists is widespread, as they may originate from plant surfaces, animals, water surfaces or soils and even from bacteria replicating within the clouds. On a global scale, transport of air masses from the well-mixed boundary layer to high-altitude sites has frequently been observed, particularly in the warm season, and these air masses contain microorganisms. Indeed, it has become evident that much of the microbial life within remote environments is transported by air currents. In this review, we examine the behaviour of microorganisms in the Antarctic aerial environment and the extent to which these microorganisms might influence Antarctic microbial biodiversity.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)143-157
JournalFEMS Microbiology Ecology
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2009


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