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Methane Seep Carbonates Host Distinct, Diverse, and Dynamic Microbial Assemblages
Published Web Locationhttps://doi.org/10.1128/mbio.01348-15
UnlabelledMarine methane seeps are globally distributed geologic features in which reduced fluids, including methane, are advected upward from the subsurface. As a result of alkalinity generation during sulfate-coupled methane oxidation, authigenic carbonates form slabs, nodules, and extensive pavements. These carbonates shape the landscape within methane seeps, persist long after methane flux is diminished, and in some cases are incorporated into the geologic record. In this study, microbial assemblages from 134 native and experimental samples across 5,500 km, representing a range of habitat substrates (carbonate nodules and slabs, sediment, bottom water, and wood) and seepage conditions (active and low activity), were analyzed to address two fundamental questions of seep microbial ecology: (i) whether carbonates host distinct microbial assemblages and (ii) how sensitive microbial assemblages are to habitat substrate type and temporal shifts in methane seepage flux. Through massively parallel 16S rRNA gene sequencing and statistical analysis, native carbonates are shown to be reservoirs of distinct and highly diverse seep microbial assemblages. Unique coupled transplantation and colonization experiments on the seafloor demonstrated that carbonate-associated microbial assemblages are resilient to seep quiescence and reactive to seep activation over 13 months. Various rates of response to simulated seep quiescence and activation are observed among similar phylogenies (e.g., Chloroflexi operational taxonomic units) and similar metabolisms (e.g., putative S oxidizers), demonstrating the wide range of microbial sensitivity to changes in seepage flux. These results imply that carbonates do not passively record a time-integrated history of seep microorganisms but rather host distinct, diverse, and dynamic microbial assemblages.
ImportanceSince their discovery in 1984, the global distribution and importance of marine methane seeps have become increasingly clear. Much of our understanding of methane seep microorganisms-from metabolisms to community ecology-has stemmed from detailed studies of seep sediments. However, it has become apparent that carbonates represent a volumetrically significant habitat substrate at methane seeps. Through combined in situ characterization and incubation experiments, this study demonstrates that carbonates host microbial assemblages distinct from and more diverse than those of other seep habitats. This emphasizes the importance of seep carbonates as biodiversity locales. Furthermore, we demonstrate that carbonate-associated microbial assemblages are well adapted to withstand fluctuations in methane seepage, and we gain novel insight into particular taxa that are responsive (or recalcitrant) to changes in seep conditions.
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