The Core Seafloor Microbiome in the Gulf of Mexico is Remarkably Consistent and Shows Evidence of Recovery from Disturbance Caused by Major Oil Spills

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Environmental Monitoring, Geologic Sediments, Gulf of Mexico, Microbiota, Petroleum Pollution

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The microbial ecology of oligotrophic deep ocean sediments is understudied relative to their shallow counterparts, and this lack of understanding hampers our ability to predict responses to current and future perturbations. The Gulf of Mexico has experienced two of the largest accidental marine oil spills, the 1979 Ixtoc-1 blowout and the 2010 Deepwater Horizon (DWH) discharge. Here, microbial communities were characterized for 29 sites across multiple years in > 700 samples. The composition of the seafloor microbiome was broadly consistent across the region and was well approximated by the overlying water depth and depth within the sediment column, while geographic distance played a limited role. Biogeographical distributions were employed to generate predictive models for over 4000 OTU that leverage easy-to-obtain geospatial variables which are linked to measured sedimentary oxygen profiles. Depth stratification and putative niche diversification are evidenced by the distribution of taxa that mediate the microbial nitrogen cycle. Furthermore, these results demonstrate that sediments impacted by the DWH spill had returned to near baseline conditions after 2 years. The distributions of benthic microorganisms in the Gulf can be constrained, and moreover, deviations from these predictions may pinpoint impacted sites and aid in future response efforts or long-term stability studies.

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Environmental Microbiology, v. 21, issue 11, p. 4316-4329