The atmosphere contains diverse living microbes, of which the heterotrophic community has been the best studied. Microbes with other trophic modes, such as photoautotrophy, have received much less attention. In this study, culture-independent and dependent methods were used to examine the presence and diversity of oxygenic photoautotrophic microbes in clouds and rain collected at or around puy de Dome Mountain, central France. Cloud water was collected from the summit of puy de Dome (1,465 m above sea level [a.s.l.]) for cultivation and metagenomic analysis. Cyanobacteria, diatoms, green algae, and other oxygenic photoautotrophs were found to be recurrent members of clouds, while green algae affiliated with the Chlorellaceae were successfully cultured from three different clouds. Additionally, rain samples were collected below the mountain from Opme meteorological station (680 m a.s.l.). The abundance of chlorophyll a-containing cells and the diversity of cyanobacteria and green algae in rain were assessed by flow cytometry and amplicon sequencing. The corresponding downward flux of chlorophyll a-containing organisms to the ground, entering surface ecosystems with rain, varied with time and was estimated to be between ~1 and >300 cells cm-2 day-1 during the sampling period. Besides abundant pollen from Pinales and Rosales, cyanobacteria of the Chroococcidiopsidales and green algae of the Trebouxiales were dominant in rain samples. Certain members of these taxa are known to be ubiquitous and stress tolerant and could use the atmosphere for dispersal. Overall, our results indicate that the atmosphere carries diverse, viable oxygenic photoautotrophic microbes and acts as a dispersal vector for this microbial guild. IMPORTANCE Information regarding the diversity and abundance of oxygenic photoautotrophs in the atmosphere is limited. More information from diverse locations is needed. These airborne organisms could have important impacts upon atmospheric processes and on the ecosystems they enter after deposition. Oxygenic photoautotrophic microbes are integral to ecosystem functioning, and some have the potential to affect human health. A better understanding of the diversity and the movements of these aeolian dispersed organisms is needed to understand their ecology, as well as how they could affect ecosystems and human health.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Food Science
- Applied Microbiology and Biotechnology