Community structure of rare methanogenic archaea: insight from a single functional group

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The rare biosphere, the low abundant microbial populations, is suggested to be a conserved way of microbial life. Here we conducted a molecular survey of rare methanogenic archaea in the environment targeting the mcrA gene in order to test if general concepts associated with the structure of the rare bacterial biosphere also apply to single functional groups. Similar to what is known about rare bacterial communities, the contribution of rare methanogens to the alpha diversity is much larger than to Bray-Curtis measures. Moreover, a similar core group of methanogens harbored by the abundant and rare communities suggests similar sources and environmental controls of both groups. Among the communities of different levels of rarity, the conditionally rare methanogenic taxa largely account for the overall community dynamics of the rare biosphere and likely enter the dominant community under favorable environmental conditions. In addition, we observed a positive correlation between the alpha diversity and the production of methane when the rare taxa were taken into account. This supports the concept that increasing microbial biodiversity enhances ecological function. The composition and environmental associations of the rare methanogenic biosphere allow us to conclude that rarity is a conserved way also for single functional groups.

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