Since the turn of the previous century, when Arctic explorers began to return samples of microbes for culture and study, our understanding of the microbiology of these unique ecosystems has advanced a great deal. In particular, the advent of molecular techniques towards the end of the 20th century has significantly changed our understanding of microbial communities from the ecological to the biochemical perspective.
Our understanding on questions about the microbiology of Arctic ecosystems grows yearly as critical discoveries are made. However, it would be misleading to think that we have a good understanding of these communities, as some basic questions remain unanswered. For example, we only have a rough understanding of Arctic microbial biodiversity and their functional importance in seasonal changes and climate change scenarios.
Arctic microbiology encompasses the whole range of microbial life, including viruses, bacteria, archaea and microbial eukaryotes (i.e., fungi, zooplankton, phytoplankton). They play crucial roles in e.g., cycling of nutrients and are vital for (Arctic) global ecosystem functioning (Blaud et al 2015, Trubl et al 2018, Worden et al 2015). The biodiversity of viruses, bacteria and eukaryotic microbes in polar regions turned out to be higher than previously expected (Anesio & Bellas 2011; Neufeld & Mohn 2005; Stoeck et al., 2007).
In the rest of this topic, we describe the main characteristics and peculiarities of Arctic microorganisms, current understanding of their ecology, recent developments, interesting science lying on the immediate horizon and challenges ahead.
Some resources highlighting recent advancements and future perspectives in understanding microbes in polar environments: