Archaeal community diversity and abundance changes along a natural salinity gradient in estuarine sediments

Gordon Webster, Louise A O'Sullivan, Yiyu Meng, Angharad S Williams, Andrea M Sass, Andrew J Watkins, R John Parkes, Andrew J Weightman
FEMS Microbiology Ecology 2015, 91 (2): 1-18
Archaea are widespread in marine sediments, but their occurrence and relationship with natural salinity gradients in estuarine sediments is not well understood. This study investigated the abundance and diversity of Archaea in sediments at three sites [Brightlingsea (BR), Alresford (AR) and Hythe (HY)] along the Colne Estuary, using quantitative real-time PCR (qPCR) of 16S rRNA genes, DNA hybridization, Archaea 16S rRNA and mcrA gene phylogenetic analyses. Total archaeal 16S rRNA abundance in sediments were higher in the low-salinity brackish sediments from HY (2-8 × 10(7) 16S rRNA gene copies cm(-3)) than the high-salinity marine sites from BR and AR (2 × 10(4)-2 × 10(7) and 4 × 10(6)-2 × 10(7) 16S rRNA gene copies cm(-3), respectively), although as a proportion of the total prokaryotes Archaea were higher at BR than at AR or HY. Phylogenetic analysis showed that members of the 'Bathyarchaeota' (MCG), Thaumarchaeota and methanogenic Euryarchaeota were the dominant groups of Archaea. The composition of Thaumarchaeota varied with salinity, as only 'marine' group I.1a was present in marine sediments (BR). Methanogen 16S rRNA genes from low-salinity sediments at HY were dominated by acetotrophic Methanosaeta and putatively hydrogentrophic Methanomicrobiales, whereas the marine site (BR) was dominated by mcrA genes belonging to methylotrophic Methanococcoides, versatile Methanosarcina and methanotrophic ANME-2a. Overall, the results indicate that salinity and associated factors play a role in controlling diversity and distribution of Archaea in estuarine sediments.

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