Wintertime measurements near Barrow, Alaska, showed that bacteria near the surface of first-year sea ice and in overlying saline snow experience more extreme temperatures and salinities, and wider fluctuations in both parameters, than bacteria deeper in the ice. To examine impacts of such conditions on bacterial survival, two Arctic isolates with different environmental tolerances were subjected to winter-freezing conditions, with and without the presence of organic solutes involved in osmoprotection: proline, choline, or glycine betaine. Obligate psychrophile Colwellia psychrerythraea strain 34H suffered cell losses under all treatments, with maximal loss after 15-day exposure to temperatures fluctuating between -7 and -25 °C. Osmoprotectants significantly reduced the losses, implying that salinity rather than temperature extremes presents the greater stress for this organism. In contrast, psychrotolerant Psychrobacter sp. strain 7E underwent miniaturization and fragmentation under both fluctuating and stable-freezing conditions, with cell numbers increasing in most cases, implying a different survival strategy that may include enhanced dispersal. Thus, the composition and abundance of the bacterial community that survives in winter sea ice may depend on the extent to which overlying snow buffers against extreme temperature and salinity conditions and on the availability of solutes that mitigate osmotic shock, especially during melting.
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