Red snow is a well-known phenomenon caused by microalgae thriving in alpine and polar regions during the melting season. The ecology and biodiversity of these organisms, which are adapted to low temperatures, high irradiance and freeze-thaw events, are still poorly understood. We compared two different snow habitats containing two different green algal genera in the European Alps, namely algae blooming in seasonal rock-based snowfields (Chlamydomonas nivalis) and algae dominating waterlogged snow bedded over ice (Chlainomonassp.). Despite the morphological similarity of the red spores found at the snow surface, we found differences in intracellular organization investigated by light and transmission electron microscopy and in secondary pigments investigated by chromatographic analysis in combination with mass spectrometry. Spores ofChlainomonassp. show clear differences fromChlamydomonas nivalisin cell wall arrangement and plastid organization. Active photosynthesis at ambient temperatures indicates a high physiological activity, despite no cell division being present. Lipid bodies containing the carotenoid astaxanthin, which produces the red color, dominate cells of both species, but are modified differently. While inChlainomonassp. astaxanthin is mainly esterified with two fatty acids and is more apolar, inChamydomonas nivalis, in contrast, less apolar monoesters prevail.
- snow algae
- Cold Temperature
- Cell Wall/chemistry
- Mass Spectrometry
- Pigments, Biological/physiology