Finding the best windows: An apparent environmental threshold determines which diffuse flows are dominated by subsurface microbes
Tuesday, 16 December 2014: 8:45 AM
Hydrothermal vents are hotspots of microbial primary productivity often described as “windows into the subsurface biosphere.” High temperature vents have received the majority of research attention, but cooler diffuse flows are as, if not more, important a source of heat and chemicals to the overlying ocean. We studied patterns of in situ gene expression and co-registered geochemistry in order to 1) describe the diversity and physiological poise of active microbial communities that span thermal and geochemical gradients from active diffuse flow to background vent field seawater, and 2) determine to what extent seawater or subsurface microbes were active throughout this environment. Analyses of multiple metatranscriptomes from 5 geochemically distinct sites (some from samples preserved in situ) show that proximate diffuse flows showed strikingly different transcription profiles. Specifically, caldera background and some diffuse flows were similar, both dominated by seawater-derived Gammaproteobacteria despite having distinct geochemistries. Intra-field community shows evidence of increased primary productivity throughout the entire vent field and not just at individual diffuse flows. In contrast, a more spatially limited, Epsilonproteobacteria-dominated transcription profile from the most hydrothermally-influenced diffuse flow appeared to be driven by the activity of vent-endemic microbes, likely reflecting subsurface microbial activity. We suggest that the microbial activity within many diffuse flow vents is primarily attributable to seawater derived Gammaproteobacterial sulfur oxidizers, while in certain other flows vent-endemic Epsilonproteobactiera are most active. These data reveal a diversity in microbial activity at diffuse flows that has not previously been recognized, and reshapes our thinking about the relative influence that different microbial communities may have on local processes (such as primary production) and potentially global biogeochemical cycles.