Comprehensive characterization of an aspen (Populus tremuloides) leaf litter sample that maintained ice nucleation activity for 48 years
Mechan Llontop, Marco E.
Schmale, David G.
Vinatzer, Boris A.
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Decaying vegetation was determined to be a potentially important source of atmospheric ice nucleation particles (INPs) in the early 1970s. The bacterium Pseudomonas syringae was the first microorganism with ice nucleation activity (INA) isolated from decaying leaf litter in 1974. However, the ice nucleation characteristics of P. syringae are not compatible with the characteristics of leaf litter-derived INPs since the latter were found to be sub-micron in size, while INA of P. syringae depends on much larger intact bacterial cells. Here we determined the cumulative ice nucleation spectrum and microbial community composition of the historic leaf litter sample 70-S-14 collected in 1970 that conserved INA for 48 years. The majority of the leaf litter-derived INPs were confirmed to be sub-micron in size and to be sensitive to boiling. Culture-independent microbial community analysis only identified Pseudomonas as potential INA. Culture-dependent analysis identified one P. syringae isolate, two isolates of the bacterial species Pantoea ananatis, and one fungal isolate of Mortierella alpina as having INA among 1170 bacterial colonies and 277 fungal isolates, respectively. Both Pa. ananatis and M. alpina are organisms that produce heat-sensitive sub-micron INPs. They are thus both likely sources of the INPs present in sample 70-S-14 and may represent important terrestrial sources of atmospheric INPs, a conclusion that is in line with other recent results obtained in regard to INPs from soil, precipitation, and the atmosphere.