Ecological dichotomies arise in microbial communities due to mixing of deep hydrothermal waters and atmospheric gas in a circumneutral hot spring

Maria C. Fernandes-Martins, Lisa M. Keller, Mason Munro-Ehrlich, Kathryn R. Zimlich, Madelyn K. Mettler, Alexis M. England, Rita Clare, Kevin Surya, Everett L. Shock, Daniel R. Colman, Eric S. Boyd

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Little is known of how the confluence of subsurface and surface processes influences the assembly and habitability of hydrothermal ecosystems. To address this knowledge gap, the geochemical and microbial composition of a high-temperature, circumneutral hot spring in Yellowstone National Park was examined to identify the sources of solutes and their effect on the ecology of microbial inhabitants. Metagenomic analysis showed that populations comprising planktonic and sediment communities are archaeal dominated, are dependent on chemical energy (chemosynthetic), share little overlap in their taxonomic composition, and are differentiated by their inferred use of/tolerance to oxygen and mode of carbon metabolism. The planktonic community is dominated by putative aerobic/aerotolerant autotrophs, while the taxonomic composition of the sediment community is more evenly distributed and comprised of anaerobic heterotrophs. These observations are interpreted to reflect sourcing of the spring by anoxic, organic carbon-limited subsurface hydrothermal fluids and ingassing of atmospheric oxygen that selects for aerobic/ aerotolerant organisms that have autotrophic capabilities in the water column. Autotrophy and consumption of oxygen by the planktonic community may influence the assembly of the anaerobic and heterotrophic sediment community. Support for this inference comes from higher estimated rates of genome replication in planktonic populations than sediment populations, indicating faster growth in planktonic populations. Collectively, these observations provide new insight into how mixing of subsurface waters and atmospheric oxygen create dichotomy in the ecology of hot spring communities and suggest that planktonic and sediment communities may have been less differentiated taxonomically and functionally prior to the rise of oxygen at;2.4 billion years ago (Gya). IMPORTANCE Understanding the source and availability of energy capable of supporting life in hydrothermal environments is central to predicting the ecology of microbial life on early Earth when volcanic activity was more widespread. Little is known of the substrates supporting microbial life in circumneutral to alkaline springs, despite their relevance to early Earth habitats. Using metagenomic and informatics approaches, water column and sediment habitats in a representative circumneutral hot spring in Yellowstone were shown to be dichotomous, with the former largely hosting aerobic/ aerotolerant autotrophs and the latter primarily hosting anaerobic heterotrophs. This dichotomy is attributed to influx of atmospheric oxygen into anoxic deep hydrothermal spring waters. These results indicate that the ecology of microorganisms in circumneutral alkaline springs sourced by deep hydrothermal fluids was different prior to the rise of atmospheric oxygen;2.4 Gya, with planktonic and sediment communities likely to be less differentiated than contemporary circumneutral hot springs.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere01598-21
JournalApplied and environmental microbiology
Volume87
Issue number23
DOIs
StatePublished - Nov 2021
Externally publishedYes

Keywords

  • Aerobic
  • Anaerobic
  • Archaea
  • Autotrophic
  • Circumneutral hot spring
  • Dissolved organic carbon
  • Heterotrophic
  • Oxygen availability
  • Silica
  • Subsurface
  • Yellowstone

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biotechnology
  • Food Science
  • Ecology
  • Applied Microbiology and Biotechnology

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