McMurdo Dry Valley lake edge 'moats': the ecological intersection between terrestrial and aquatic polar desert habitats

Michael S. Stone, Shawn P. Devlin, Ian Hawes, Kathleen A. Welch, Michael N. Gooseff, Cristina Takacs-Vesbach, Rachael Morgan-Kiss, Byron J. Adams, J. E. Barrett, John C. Priscu, Peter T. Doran

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Aquatic ecosystems - lakes, ponds and streams - are hotspots of biodiversity in the cold and arid environment of Continental Antarctica. Environmental change is expected to increasingly alter Antarctic aquatic ecosystems and modify the physical characteristics and interactions within the habitats that they support. Here, we describe physical and biological features of the peripheral 'moat' of a closed-basin Antarctic lake. These moats mediate connectivity amongst streams, lake and soils. We highlight the cyclical moat transition from a frozen winter state to an active open-water summer system, through refreeze as winter returns. Summer melting begins at the lakebed, initially creating an ice-constrained lens of liquid water in November, which swiftly progresses upwards, creating open water in December. Conversely, freezing progresses slowly from the water surface downwards, with water at 1 m bottom depth remaining liquid until May. Moats support productive, diverse benthic communities that are taxonomically distinct from those under the adjacent permanent lake ice. We show how ion ratios suggest that summer exchange occurs amongst moats, streams, soils and sub-ice lake water, perhaps facilitated by within-moat density-driven convection. Moats occupy a small but dynamic area of lake habitat, are disproportionately affected by recent lake-level rises and may thus be particularly vulnerable to hydrological change.

Original languageEnglish
JournalAntarctic Science
StatePublished - Apr 19 2024


  • connectivity
  • ecosystem
  • ice
  • microbial mats
  • transition


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