Linking phylogenetic and functional diversity to nutrient spiraling in microbial mats from Lower Kane Cave (USA)

Annette Summers Engel
Daniela B. Meisinger
Megan L. Porter

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Microbial mats in sulfidic cave streams offer unique opportunities to study redox-based biogeochemical nutrient cycles. Previous work from Lower Kane Cave, Wyoming, USA, focused on the aerobic portion of microbial mats, dominated by putative chemolithoautotrophic, sulfur-oxidizing groups within the Epsilonproteobacteria and Gammaproteobacteria. To evaluate nutrient cycling and turnover within the whole mat system, a multidisciplinary strategy was used to characterize the anaerobic portion of the mats, including application of the full-cycle rRNA approach, the most probable number method, and geochemical and isotopic analyses. Seventeen major taxonomic bacterial groups and one archaeal group were retrieved from the anaerobic portions of the mats, dominated by Deltaproteobacteria and uncultured members of the Chloroflexi phylum. A nutrient spiraling model was applied to evaluate upstream to downstream changes in microbial diversity based on carbon and sulfur nutrient concentrations. Variability in dissolved sulfide concentrations was attributed to changes in the abundance of sulfide-oxidizing microbial groups and shifts in the occurrence and abundance of sulfate-reducing microbes. Gradients in carbon and sulfur isotopic composition indicated that released and recycled byproduct compounds from upstream microbial activities were incorporated by downstream communities. On the basis of the type of available chemical energy, the variability of nutrient species in a spiraling model may explain observed differences in microbial taxonomic affiliations and metabolic functions, thereby spatially linking microbial diversity to nutrient spiraling in the cave stream ecosystem.