Environ Microbiol 2016 12 28;18(12):4348-4368. Epub 2016 Apr 28.
Max Planck Institute for Marine Microbiology, Celsiusstrasse 1, D-28359, Bremen, Germany.
Deep-sea hydrothermal vents are highly dynamic habitats characterized by steep temperature and chemical gradients. The oxidation of reduced compounds dissolved in the venting fluids fuels primary production providing the basis for extensive life. Until recently studies of microbial vent communities have focused primarily on chemolithoautotrophic organisms. In our study, we targeted the change of microbial community compositions along mixing gradients, focusing on distribution and capabilities of heterotrophic microorganisms. Samples were retrieved from different venting areas within the Menez Gwen hydrothermal field, taken along mixing gradients, including diffuse fluid discharge points, their immediate surroundings and the buoyant parts of hydrothermal plumes. High throughput 16S rRNA gene amplicon sequencing, fluorescence in situ hybridization, and targeted metagenome analysis were combined with geochemical analyses. Close to diffuse venting orifices dominated by chemolithoautotrophic Epsilonproteobacteria, in areas where environmental conditions still supported chemolithoautotrophic processes, we detected microbial communities enriched for versatile heterotrophic Alpha- and Gammaproteobacteria. The potential for alkane degradation could be shown for several genera and yet uncultured clades. We propose that hotspots of chemolithoautotrophic life support a 'belt' of heterotrophic bacteria significantly different from the dominating oligotrophic microbiota of the deep sea.