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Microbial community ecology of marine methan seeps


Ruff,  Emil
HGF MPG Joint Research Group for Deep Sea Ecology & Technology, Max Planck Institute for Marine Microbiology, Max Planck Society;

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Ruff, E. (2013). Microbial community ecology of marine methan seeps. PhD Thesis, University of Bremen, Bremen / Germany.

The detailed investigation of microbial communities, e.g. of soil or hydrothermal vent ecosystems, greatly improved our understanding of the diversity, habitat preferences and functions of microorganisms and their impact on global element cycles. The aim of this thesis was a detailed analysis of the diversity, abundance and distribution of micoorganisms at marine methane seeps and the mechanisms that govern community assembly at these sites. The seep ecosystems were investigated using geochemical analyses, gene libraries, pyrosequencing, community fingerprinting and fluorescence in situ hybridization. Cold seep ecosystems hosted distinct microbial communities that differed from those of the surrounding seabed and were unique microbial habitat patches in the deep sea. The communities also greatly differed between seeps, covered broad ranges of richness and evenness and showed high degrees of endemism. However, despite the differences all seeps were inhabited by certain organisms – the cold seep microbiome - including key functional clades of anaerobic methane oxidizing archaea (ANME) and sulfate-reducing bacteria. Additionally, aerobic methanotrophs and thiotrophs were found at all seeps where oxygen was present. These key functional clades seemed to be influenced by environmental parameters, such as temperature, fluid flux, sediment depth and faunal activity. Bioirrigation by ampharetid tubeworms, for instance, created a habitat for aerobic Methylococcales, whereas vesicomyid clams seemed to favor the establishment of the clade ANME-2c. Thus, niche-based processes played an important role for the community assembly at seep ecosystems. However, most of the seeps seemed to be clearly dominated by a few, globally distributed operational taxonomic units at 97% 16S rRNA gene identity (OTU0.03) of each key functional clade. Some of these OTU0.03 were rare at some seep ecosystems and abundant at others. Moreover, some findings suggested that rare organisms became abundant because the environmental conditions at the seep changed supporting the importance of species sorting at seep communities. Finally, the succession of microbial communities and the emergence of ecosystem function at a cold seep were monitored showing that it may take years to develop fully functioning communities that efficiently remove the potential greenhouse gas methane. Overall this work may help to resolve the mysteries of microbial community ecology at cold seep ecosystems.