Ecological differentiation in planktonic and sediment-associated chemotrophic microbial populations in Yellowstone hot springs

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Abstract

Chemosynthetic sediment and planktonic community composition and sizes, aqueous geochemistry and sediment mineralogy were determined in 15 non-photosynthetic hot springs in Yellowstone National Park (YNP). These data were used to evaluate the hypothesis that differences in the availability of dissolved or mineral substrates in the bulk fluids or sediments within springs coincides with ecologically differentiated microbial communities and their populations. Planktonic and sediment-associated communities exhibited differing ecological characteristics including community sizes, evenness and richness. pH and temperature influenced microbial community composition among springs, but within-spring partitioning of taxa into sediment or planktonic communities was widespread, statistically supported (P < 0.05) and could be best explained by the inferred metabolic strategies of the partitioned taxa. Microaerophilic genera of the Aquificales predominated in many of the planktonic communities. In contrast, taxa capable of mineral-based metabolism such as So oxidation/reduction or Fe-oxide reduction predominated in sediment communities. These results indicate that ecological differentiation within thermal spring habitats is common across a range of spring geochemistry and is influenced by the availability of dissolved nutrients and minerals that can be used in metabolism.

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