Extremely acidic, pendulous cave wall biofilms from the Frasassi cave system, Italy
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The sulfide‐rich Frasassi cave system hosts an aphotic, subsurface microbial ecosystem including extremely acidic (pH 0–1), viscous biofilms (snottites) hanging from the cave walls. We investigated the diversity and population structure of snottites from three locations in the cave system using full cycle rRNA methods and culturing. The snottites were composed primarily of bacteria related to Acidithiobacillus species. Other populations present in the snottites included Thermoplasmata group archaea, bacteria related to Sulfobacillus , Acidimicrobium , and the proposed bacterial lineage TM6, protists, and filamentous fungi. Based on fluorescence in situ hybridization population counts, Acidithiobacillus are key members of the snottite communities, accompanied in some cases by smaller numbers of archaea related to Ferroplasma and other Thermoplasmata. Diversity estimates show that the Frasassi snottites are among the lowest‐diversity natural microbial communities known, with one to six prokaryotic phylotypes observed depending on the sample. This study represents the first in‐depth molecular survey of cave snottite microbial diversity and population structure, and contributes to understanding of rapid limestone dissolution and cave formation by microbially mediated sulfuric acid speleogenesis.