Atmospheric dispersal of bacteria is increasingly acknowledged as an important factor influencing bacterial community biodiversity, biogeography and bacteria–human interactions, including those linked to human health. However, knowledge about patterns in microbial aerobiology is still relatively scarce, and this can be attributed, in part, to a lack of consensus on appropriate sampling and analytical methodology. In this study, three different methods were used to investigate aerial biodiversity over Svalbard: impaction, membrane filtration and drop plates. Sites around Svalbard were selected due to their relatively remote location, low human population, geographical location with respect to air movement and the tradition and history of scientific investigation on the archipelago, ensuring the presence of existing research infrastructure. The aerial bacterial biodiversity found was similar to that described in other aerobiological studies from both polar and non-polar environments, with Proteobacteria, Actinobacteria, and Firmicutes being the predominant groups. Twelve different phyla were detected in the air collected above Svalbard, although the diversity was considerably lower than in urban environments elsewhere. However, only 58 of 196 bacterial genera detected were consistently present, suggesting potentially higher levels of heterogeneity. Viable bacteria were present at all sampling locations, showing that living bacteria are ubiquitous in the air around Svalbard. Sampling location influenced the results obtained, as did sampling method. Specifically, impaction with a Sartorius MD8 produced a significantly higher number of viable colony forming units (CFUs) than drop plates alone.
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