Microbial biogeography of San Francisco Bay sediments

Tuesday, 16 December 2014: 8:15 AM
Jessica Audrey Lee, Stanford University, Stanford, CA, United States and Christopher A. Francis, Stanford University, Environmental Earth System Science, Stanford, CA, United States
The largest estuary on the west coast of North America, San Francisco Bay is an ecosystem of enormous biodiversity, and also enormous human impact. The benthos has experienced dredging, occupation by invasive species, and over a century of sediment input as a result of hydraulic mining. Although the Bay’s great cultural and ecological importance has inspired numerous surveys of the benthic macrofauna, to date there has been almost no investigation of the microbial communities on the Bay floor. An understanding of those microbial communities would contribute significantly to our understanding of both the biogeochemical processes (which are driven by the microbiota) and the physical processes (which contribute to microbial distributions) in the Bay.

Here, we present the first broad survey of bacterial and archaeal taxa in the sediments of the San Francisco Bay. We conducted 16S rRNA community sequencing of bacteria and archaea in sediment samples taken bimonthly for one year, from five sites spanning the salinity gradient between Suisun and Central Bay, in order to capture the effect of both spatial and temporal environmental variation on microbial diversity. From the same samples we also conducted deep sequencing of a nitrogen-cycling functional gene, nirS, allowing an assessment of evolutionary diversity at a much finer taxonomic scale within an important and widespread functional group of bacteria. We paired these sequencing projects with extensive geochemical metadata as well as information about macrofaunal distribution.

Our data reveal a diversity of distinct biogeographical patterns among different taxa: clades ubiquitous across sites; clades that respond to measurable environmental drivers; and clades that show geographical site-specificity. These community datasets allow us to test the hypothesis that salinity is a major driver of both overall microbial community structure and community structure of the denitrifying bacteria specifically; and to assess whether patterns of diversity observed at the broadest of taxonomic scales also apply to patterns observed within a single extremely diverse gene (nirS). In sum, this project provides a first look at the forces driving the migration and selection of microbial communities in San Francisco Bay.