Winter carbon loss in northern ecosystems is estimated to be greater than the average growing season carbon uptake and is primarily driven by microbial decomposers. Viruses modulate microbial carbon cycling via induced mortality and metabolic controls, but it is unknown whether viruses are active under winter conditions (anoxic and sub-freezing temperatures).
We used stable isotope probing (SIP) targeted metagenomics to reveal the genomic potential of active soil microbial populations under simulated winter conditions, with an emphasis on viruses and virus-host dynamics. Arctic peat soils from the Bonanza Creek Long-Term Ecological Research site in Alaska were incubated under sub-freezing anoxic conditions with H218O or natural abundance water for 184 and 370 days. We sequenced 23 SIP-metagenomes and measured carbon dioxide (CO2) efflux throughout the experiment. We identified 46 bacterial populations (spanning 9 phyla) and 243 viral populations that actively took up18O in soil and respired CO2throughout the incubation. Active bacterial populations represented only a small portion of the detected microbial community and were capable of fermentation and organic matter degradation. In contrast, active viral populations represented a large portion of the detected viral community and one third were linked to active bacterial populations. We identified 86 auxiliary metabolic genes and other environmentallymore »
Overall, there was a stark difference in the identity and function of the active bacterial and viral community compared to the unlabeled community that would have been overlooked with a non-targeted standard metagenomic analysis. Our results illustrate that substantial active virus-host interactions occur in sub-freezing anoxic conditions and highlight viruses as a major community-structuring agent that likely modulates carbon loss in peat soils during winter, which may be pivotal for understanding the future fate of arctic soils' vast carbon stocks.