Microbiology and Vegetation of Micro-Oases and Polar Desert, Haughton Impact Crater, Devon Island, Nunavut, Canada
Charles S. Cockell, Pascal Lee, Andrew C. Schuerger, Loretta Hidalgo, Jeff A. Jones, M. Dale Stokes
The input of nutrients into arctic polar deserts, aided by some physical processes, can result in localized areas of high biological productivity--"micro-oases." We examined the vegetation cover, and microbial and nematode abundance in the polar desert and in 38 micro-oases at the Haughton impact crater, Devon Island, Arctic Canada. Our sites were split between the alluvial terraces along the banks of the Haughton River and the breccia deposits resulting from the asteroid or comet impact 22 Myr ago that flank the alluvial terraces. The alluvial terraces have a vegetation cover that ranges from 2 to 11% depending on substrate and water availability with a species richness of 5 in most locations. The vegetation cover on the breccia is much lower, between 0.02 and 3% depending on water availability. The micro-oases on both substrates support between 2 and 98% cover, but they are smaller and more sparsely distributed than similar features found in the Truelove Lowland, Devon Island, and on Bathurst Island. Microbial and nematode numbers were an order of magnitude greater inside the micro-oases compared to outside. Micro-oases are often dominated by a particular species, resulting in well-defined groups of micro-oases that were separated by TWINSPAN analysis. The micro-oases at Haughton Crater provide insights into the process of colonization of a substrate resulting from an asteroid or comet impact and the unique biological characteristics of such substrates.