Jackson W. Andrew

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W. Andrew

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  • Article
    Geochemical zones and environmental gradients for soils from the central Transantarctic Mountains, Antarctica
    (European Geosciences Union, 2021-03-09) Diaz, Melisa A. ; Gardner, Christopher B. ; Welch, Susan A. ; Jackson, W. Andrew ; Adams, Byron J. ; Wall, Diana H. ; Hogg, Ian D. ; Fierer, Noah ; Lyons, W. Berry
    Previous studies have established links between biodiversity and soil geochemistry in the McMurdo Dry Valleys, Antarctica, where environmental gradients are important determinants of soil biodiversity. However, these gradients are not well established in the central Transantarctic Mountains, which are thought to represent some of the least hospitable Antarctic soils. We analyzed 220 samples from 11 ice-free areas along the Shackleton Glacier (∼ 85∘ S), a major outlet glacier of the East Antarctic Ice Sheet. We established three zones of distinct geochemical gradients near the head of the glacier (upper), its central part (middle), and at the mouth (lower). The upper zone had the highest water-soluble salt concentrations with total salt concentrations exceeding 80 000 µg g−1, while the lower zone had the lowest water-soluble N:P ratios, suggesting that, in addition to other parameters (such as proximity to water and/or ice), the lower zone likely represents the most favorable ecological habitats. Given the strong dependence of geochemistry on geographic parameters, we developed multiple linear regression and random forest models to predict soil geochemical trends given latitude, longitude, elevation, distance from the coast, distance from the glacier, and soil moisture (variables which can be inferred from remote measurements). Confidence in our random forest model predictions was moderately high with R2 values for total water-soluble salts, water-soluble N:P, ClO−4, and ClO−3 of 0.81, 0.88, 0.78, and 0.74, respectively. These modeling results can be used to predict geochemical gradients and estimate salt concentrations for other Transantarctic Mountain soils, information that can ultimately be used to better predict distributions of soil biota in this remote region.
  • Article
    Exploring the boundaries of microbial habitability in soil
    (American Geophysical Union, 2021-05-29) Dragone, Nicholas B. ; Diaz, Melisa A. ; Hogg, Ian D. ; Lyons, W. Berry ; Jackson, W. Andrew ; Wall, Diana H. ; Adams, Byron J. ; Fierer, Noah
    Microbes are widely assumed to be capable of colonizing even the most challenging terrestrial surface environments on Earth given enough time. We would not expect to find surface soils uninhabited by microbes as soils typically harbor diverse microbial communities and viable microbes have been detected in soils exposed to even the most inhospitable conditions. However, if uninhabited soils do exist, we might expect to find them in Antarctica. We analyzed 204 ice-free soils collected from across a remote valley in the Transantarctic Mountains (84–85°S, 174–177°W) and were able to identify a potential limit of microbial habitability. While most of the soils we tested contained diverse microbial communities, with fungi being particularly ubiquitous, microbes could not be detected in many of the driest, higher elevation soils—results that were confirmed using cultivation-dependent, cultivation-independent, and metabolic assays. While we cannot confirm that this subset of soils is completely sterile and devoid of microbial life, our results suggest that microbial life is severely restricted in the coldest, driest, and saltiest Antarctic soils. Constant exposure to these conditions for thousands of years has limited microbial communities so that their presence and activity is below detectable limits using a variety of standard methods. Such soils are unlikely to be unique to the studied region with this work supporting previous hypotheses that microbial habitability is constrained by near-continuous exposure to cold, dry, and salty conditions, establishing the environmental conditions that limit microbial life in terrestrial surface soils.