Articles | Volume 5, issue 2
Research article
29 Jul 2014
Research article |  | 29 Jul 2014

Microbial biomass and basal respiration of selected Sub-Antarctic and Antarctic soils in the areas of some Russian polar stations

E. Abakumov and N. Mukhametova

Abstract. Antarctica is a unique place for soil, biological, and ecological investigations. Soils of Antarctica have been studied intensively during the last century, when different national Antarctic expeditions visited the sixth continent with the aim of investigating nature and the environment. Antarctic investigations are comprised of field surveys mainly in the terrestrial landscapes, where the polar stations of different countries are situated. That is why the main and most detailed soil surveys were conducted in the McMurdo Valleys, Transantarctic Mountains, South Shetland Islands, Larsemann Hills and the Schirmacher Oasis. Our investigations were conducted during the 53rd and 55th Russian Antarctic expeditions in the base of soil pits, and samples were collected in Sub-Antarctic and Antarctic regions. Sub-Antarctic or maritime landscapes are considered to be very different from Antarctic landscapes due to differing climatic and geogenic conditions. Soils of diverse zonal landscapes were studied with the aim of assessing the microbial biomass level, basal respiration rates and metabolic activity of microbial communities. This investigation shows that Antarctic soils are quite diverse in profile organization and carbon content. In general, Sub-Antarctic soils are characterized by more developed humus (sod) organo-mineral horizons as well as by an upper organic layer. The most developed organic layers were revealed in peat soils of King George Island, where its thickness reach, in some cases, was 80 cm. These soils as well as soils formed under guano are characterized by the highest amount of total organic carbon (TOC), between 7.22 and 33.70%. Coastal and continental Antarctic soils exhibit less developed Leptosols, Gleysols, Regolith and rare Ornhitosol, with TOC levels between 0.37 and 4.67%. The metabolic ratios and basal respiration were higher in Sub-Antarctic soils than in Antarctic ones, which can be interpreted as a result of higher amounts of fresh organic remnants in organic and organo-mineral horizons. The soils of King George Island also have higher portions of microbial biomass (max 1.54 mg g−1) compared to coastal (max 0.26 mg g−1) and continental (max 0.22 mg g−1) Antarctic soils. Sub-Antarctic soils differ from Antarctic ones mainly by having increased organic layer thickness and total organic carbon content, higher microbial biomass carbon content, basal respiration, and metabolic activity levels.