Cryoconite granules are naturally occurring microbial structures on glacier surfaces worldwide. They play a key role in carbon and nitrogen cycling in glacier ecosystems and can accelerate the melting of snow and ice. However, detailed mechanism of nitrogen cycling in cryoconite granules remains unclear. Here, we demonstrate that redox stratification affects the spatial distribution of N cycling processes in cryoconite granules. Based on microsensor measurements for O2, NH4 +, NO2 - and NO3 -, we identified the presence of fine-scale redox stratification within cryoconite granules. Cyanobacteria at the surface layer of the granules created oxic conditions, whereas the inner core of the granules was anoxic. Metatranscriptomic analyses indicated the active occurrences of nitrification in the inner core, whereas denitrification actively occurred both in the inner core and the surface layer of the granules. Cyanobacteria in the inner core of the granules were inactive, and likely dead and being degraded, providing carbon and nitrogen to support nitrifiers and denitrifiers. Quantities of nitrification genes/transcripts were greater in large cryoconite granules than small ones, most likely because nitrogen substrates were more abundantly present in the inner core of large granules due to distinct redox stratification. Our results suggest that the development of a granular structure of cryoconite granules can largely affect carbon and nitrogen cycling on glaciers.
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- Next-generation sequencing
- Nitrogen cycle