Ecology and biogeochemistry of cyanobacteria in soils, permafrost, aquatic and cryptic polar habitats

Thulani P. Makhalanyane, Angel Valverde, David Velázquez, Eoin Gunnigle, Marc W. Van Goethem, Antonio Quesada, Don A. Cowan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

59 Scopus citations


Polar Regions (continental Antarctica and the Arctic) are characterized by a range of extreme environmental conditions, which impose severe pressures on biological life. Polar cold-active cyanobacteria are uniquely adapted to withstand the environmental conditions of the high latitudes. These adaptations include high ultra-violet radiation and desiccation tolerance, and mechanisms to protect cells from freeze–thaw damage. As the most widely distributed photoautotrophs in these regions, cyanobacteria are likely the dominant contributors of critically essential ecosystem services, particularly carbon and nitrogen turnover in terrestrial polar habitats. These habitats include soils, permafrost, cryptic niches (including biological soil crusts, hypoliths and endoliths), ice and snow, and a range of aquatic habitats. Here we review current literature on the ecology, and the functional role played by cyanobacteria in various Arctic and Antarctic environments. We focus on the ecological importance of cyanobacterial communities in Polar Regions and assess what is known regarding the toxins they produce. We also review the responses and adaptations of cyanobacteria to extreme environments.
Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)819-840
Number of pages22
JournalBiodiversity and Conservation
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 1 2015
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology
  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Nature and Landscape Conservation


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