Segregated Planktonic and Bottom-Dwelling Archaeal Communities in High-Temperature Acidic/Sulfuric Ponds of the Tatun Volcano Group, Northern Taiwan


Geothermal environments are characterized by dynamic redox and temperature fluctuations inherited from the exposure of deeply-sourced, hot, reducing fluids to low-temperature, oxidizing ambient environments. To investigate whether microbial assemblages shifted in response to the changes of a redox state within acidic hot ponds, we collected three paired water and sediment samples from the Tatun Volcano Group, assessed metabolic roles of community members, and correlated their functional capabilities with geochemical factors along depth. Molecular analyses revealed that Sulfolobus spp., Acidianus spp. and Vulcanisaeta spp. capable of respiring elemental sulfur under oxic and/or low-oxygen conditions were the major archaeal members in planktonic communities. In contrast, obligate anaerobic Caldisphaera spp. dominated over others in bottom-dwelling communities. Bacteria were only detected in one locality wherein the majority was affiliated with microaerophilic Hydrogenobaculum spp. Cluster analyses indicated that archaeal communities associated with sediments tended to cluster together and branch off those with water. In addition, the quantities of dissolved oxygen within the water column were substantially less than those in equilibrium with atmospheric oxygen, indicating a net oxygen consumption most likely catalyzed by microbial processes. These lines of evidence suggest that the segregation of planktonic from bottom-dwelling archaeal assemblages could be accounted for by the oxygen affinities inherited in individual archaeal members. Community assemblages in geothermal ecosystems would be often underrepresented without cautious sampling of both water and sediments.

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