Recent advances in knowledge of patterns of biogeography in terrestrial eukaryotic organisms have led to a fundamental paradigm shift in understanding of the controls and history of life on land in Antarctica, and its interactions over the long term with the glaciological and geological processes that have shaped the continent. However, while it has long been recognized that the terrestrial ecosystems of Antarctica are dominated by microbes and their processes, knowledge of microbial diversity and distributions has lagged far behind that of the macroscopic eukaryote organisms. Increasing human contact with and activity in the continent is leading to risks of biological contamination and change in a region whose isolation has protected it for millions of years at least; these risks may be particularly acute for microbial communities which have, as yet, received scant recognition and attention. Even a matter apparently as straightforward as Protected Area designation in Antarctica requires robust biodiversity data which, in most parts of the continent, remain almost completely unavailable. A range of important contributing factors mean that it is now timely to reconsider the state of knowledge of Antarctic terrestrial prokaryotes. Rapid advances in molecular biological approaches are increasingly demonstrating that bacterial diversity in Antarctica may be far greater than previously thought, and that there is overlap in the environmental controls affecting both Antarctic prokaryotic and eukaryotic communities. Bacterial dispersal mechanisms and colonization patterns remain largely unaddressed, although evidence for regional evolutionary differentiation is rapidly accruing and, with this, there is increasing appreciation of patterns in regional bacterial biogeography in this large part of the globe. In this review, we set out to describe the state of knowledge of Antarctic prokaryote diversity patterns, drawing analogy with those of eukaryote groups where appropriate. Based on our synthesis, it is clear that spatial patterns of Antarctic prokaryotes can be unique at local scales, while the limited evidence available to date supports the group exhibiting overall regional biogeographical patterns similar to the eukaryotes. We further consider the applicability of the concept of "functional redundancy" for the Antarctic microbial community and highlight the requirements for proper consideration of their important and distinctive roles in Antarctic terrestrial ecosystems.
- Functional redundancy
- Spatial pattern