Microbial community structures in anoxic freshwater lake sediment along a metal contamination gradient

Heidi L Gough, David A Stahl
ISME Journal 2011, 5 (3): 543-58
Contamination, such as by heavy metals, has frequently been implicated in altering microbial community structure. However, this association has not been extensively studied for anaerobic communities, or in freshwater lake sediments. We investigated microbial community structure in the metal-contaminated anoxic sediments of a eutrophic lake that were impacted over the course of 80 years by nearby zinc-smelting activities. Microbial community structure was inferred for bacterial, archaeal and eukaryotic populations by evaluating terminal restriction fragment length polymorphism (TRFLP) patterns in near-surface sediments collected in triplicate from five areas of the lake that had differing levels of metal contamination. The majority of the fragments in the bacterial and eukaryotic profiles showed no evidence of variation in association with metal contamination levels, and diversity revealed by these profiles remained consistent even as metal concentrations varied from 3000 to 27,000 mg kg(-1) total Zn, 0.125 to 11.2 μ pore water Zn and 0.023 to 5.40 μM pore water As. Although most archaeal fragments also showed no evidence of variation, the prevalence of a fragment associated with mesophilic Crenarchaeota showed significant positive correlation with total Zn concentrations. This Crenarchaeota fragment dominated the archaeal TRFLP profiles, representing between 35% and 79% of the total measured peak areas. Lake DePue 16S rRNA gene sequences corresponding to this TRFLP fragment clustered with anaerobic and soil mesophilic Crenarchaeota sequences. Although Crenarchaeota have been associated with metal-contaminated groundwater and soils, this is a first report (to our knowledge) documenting potential increased prevalence of Crenarchaeota associated with elevated levels of metal contamination.

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