Several studies have found ancient viruses (Legendre et al. 2014) as well as metal and antibiotic resistant bacteria in the Arctic (Perron et al. 2015) and Antarctic (Hernandez et al. 2012, Miller et al. 2009, Souza et al. 2006), Primm et al. 2004 found that mycobacteria that can be opportunistic pathogens are well adapted to life in the boreal soil. These studies suggest that the thawing of the boreal and arctic soils could potentially shift the microbial communities to decrease the overall health of the ecosystem. Indeed researchers have shown that the microbial communities change both in composition and activity with permafrost thaw (Coolen & Orsi 2015, Deng et al. 2015, Mackelprang et al. 2011, Tas et al. 2014), and we recently found that the fungal community in a thawed permafrost site around Fairbanks, Alaska had a higher abundance of potential pathogens compared to the site with intact permafrost. However, the studies were based on sampling one time point and whether permafrost thaw alters microbial communities long-term, potentially favoring pathogens remains unknown.
For this project, we will determine changes in microbial community composition and activity along a permafrost thaw gradient over the course of a year, which will help us understand how the microbial communities change with permafrost thaw and how this may impact the environmental and human health in Alaska.