New Paper Published : Spatial patterns of benthic biofilm diversity among streams draining proglacial floodplains

Glacier shrinkage opens new proglacial terrain with pronounced environmental gradients along longitudinal and lateral chronosequences. Despite the environmental harshness of the streams that drain glacier forelands, their benthic biofilms can harbor astonishing biodiversity spanning all domains of life. Here, we studied the spatial dynamics of prokaryotic and eukaryotic photoautotroph diversity within braided glacier-fed streams and tributaries draining lateral terraces predominantly fed by groundwater and snowmelt across three proglacial floodplains in the Swiss Alps. Along the lateral chronosequence, we found that benthic biofilms in tributaries develop higher biomass than those in glacier-fed streams, and that their respective diversity and community composition differed markedly. We also found spatial turnover of bacterial communities in the glacier-fed streams along the longitudinal chronosequence. These patterns along the two chronosequences seem unexpected given the close spatial proximity and connectivity of the various streams, suggesting environmental filtering as an underlying mechanism. Furthermore, our results suggest that photoautotrophic communities shape bacterial communities across the various streams, which is understandable given that algae are the major source of organic matter in proglacial streams. Overall, our findings shed new light on benthic biofilms in proglacial streams now changing at rapid pace owing to climate-induced glacier shrinkage. A copy of the paper is freely available here.