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Mark Lever

Depth Distribution and Assembly of Sulfate-Reducing Microbial Communities in Marine Sediments of Aarhus Bay

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Most sulfate-reducing microorganisms (SRMs) present in subsurface marine sediments belong to uncultured groups only distantly related to known SRMs, and it remains unclear how changing geochemical zones and sediment depth influence their community structure. We mapped the community composition and abundance of SRMs by amplicon sequencing and quantifying the dsrB gene, which encodes dissimilatory sulfite reductase subunit beta, in sediment samples covering different vertical geochemical zones ranging from the surface sediment to the deep sulfate-depleted subsurface at four locations in Aarhus Bay, Denmark. SRMs were present in all geochemical zones, including sulfate-depleted methanogenic sediment. The biggest shift in SRM community composition and abundance occurred across the transition from bioturbated surface sediments to nonbioturbated sediments below, where redox fluctuations and the input of fresh organic matter due to macrofaunal activity are absent. SRM abundance correlated with sulfate reduction rates determined for the same sediments. Sulfate availability showed a weaker correlation with SRM abundances and no significant correlation with the composition of the SRM community. The overall SRM species diversity decreased with depth, yet we identified a subset of highly abundant community members that persists across all vertical geochemical zones of all stations. We conclude that subsurface SRM communities assemble by the persistence of members of the surface community and that the transition from the bioturbated surface sediment to the unmixed sediment below is a main site of assembly of the subsurface SRM community.

IMPORTANCE Sulfate-reducing microorganisms (SRMs) are key players in the marine carbon and sulfur cycles, especially in coastal sediments, yet little is understood about the environmental factors controlling their depth distribution. Our results suggest that macrofaunal activity is a key driver of SRM abundance and community structure in marine sediments and that a small subset of SRM species of high relative abundance in the subsurface SRM community persists from the sulfate-rich surface sediment to sulfate-depleted methanogenic subsurface sediment. More generally, we conclude that SRM communities inhabiting the subsurface seabed assemble by the selective survival of members of the surface community.

TidsskriftApplied and Environmental Microbiology
Antal sider15
StatusUdgivet - dec. 2017

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