Shifts in microbial community structure along an ecological gradient of hypersaline soils and sediments

Emily B Hollister, Amanda S Engledow, Amy Jo M Hammett, Tony L Provin, Heather H Wilkinson, Terry J Gentry
ISME Journal 2010, 4 (6): 829-38
Studies of hypersaline ecosystems often yield novel organisms and contribute to our understanding of extreme environments. Soils and sediments from La Sal del Rey, a previously uncharacterized, hypersaline lake located in southern Texas, USA, were surveyed to characterize the structure and diversity of their microbial communities. Samples were collected along a transect that spanned vegetated uplands, exposed lakebed sediments, and water-logged locations, capturing a wide range of environments and physical and chemical gradients. Community quantitative PCR (qPCR) was used in combination with tag-encoded pyrosequencing, 16S rRNA gene cloning, and Sanger sequencing to characterize the lake's soil and sediment microbial communities. Further, we used multivariate statistics to identify the relationships shared between sequence diversity and heterogeneity in the soil environment. The overall microbial communities were surprisingly diverse, harboring a wide variety of taxa, and sharing significant correlations with site water content, phosphorus and total organic carbon concentrations, and pH. Some individual populations, especially of Archaea, also correlated with sodium concentration and electrical conductivity salinity. Across the transect, Bacteria were numerically dominant relative to Archaea, and among them, three phyla--the Proteobacteria, Bacteroidetes, and Firmicutes--accounted for the majority of taxa detected. Although these taxa were detected with similar abundances to those described in other hypersaline ecosystems, the greater depth of sequencing achieved here resulted in the detection of taxa not described previously in hypersaline sediments. The results of this study provide new information regarding a previously uncharacterized ecosystem and show the value of high-throughput sequencing in the study of complex ecosystems.

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