Limits to the three domains of life: lessons from community assembly along an Antarctic salinity gradient

Xiaoben Jiang, David J. Van Horn, Jordan G. Okie, Heather N. Buelow, Egbert Schwartz, Daniel R. Colman, Kelli L. Feeser, Cristina D. Takacs-Vesbach

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


Extremophiles exist among all three domains of life; however, physiological mechanisms for surviving harsh environmental conditions differ among Bacteria, Archaea and Eukarya. Consequently, we expect that domain-specific variation of diversity and community assembly patterns exist along environmental gradients in extreme environments. We investigated inter-domain community compositional differences along a high-elevation salinity gradient in the McMurdo Dry Valleys, Antarctica. Conductivity for 24 soil samples collected along the gradient ranged widely from 50 to 8355 µS cm−1. Taxonomic richness varied among domains, with a total of 359 bacterial, 2 archaeal, 56 fungal, and 69 non-fungal eukaryotic operational taxonomic units (OTUs). Richness for bacteria, archaea, fungi, and non-fungal eukaryotes declined with increasing conductivity (all P < 0.05). Principal coordinate ordination analysis (PCoA) revealed significant (ANOSIM R = 0.97) groupings of low/high salinity bacterial OTUs, while OTUs from other domains were not significantly clustered. Bacterial beta diversity was unimodally distributed along the gradient and had a nested structure driven by species losses, whereas in fungi and non-fungal eukaryotes beta diversity declined monotonically without strong evidence of nestedness. Thus, while increased salinity acts as a stressor in all domains, the mechanisms driving community assembly along the gradient differ substantially between the domains.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number15
Issue number1
StatePublished - Apr 2022


  • Antarctica
  • Inter-domain response
  • McMurdo Dry Valleys
  • Salinity
  • Species richness patterns

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Microbiology
  • Molecular Medicine


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