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Microb Ecol. 2006 Jan;51(1):65-82. Epub 2006 Jan 13.

Microbial diversity in sediments of saline Qinghai Lake, China: linking geochemical controls to microbial ecology.

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  • 1Department of Geology, Miami University, Oxford, OH 45056, USA.


Saline lakes at high altitudes represent an important and extreme microbial ecosystem, yet little is known about microbial diversity in such environments. The objective of this study was to examine the change of microbial diversity from the bottom of the lake to sediments of 40 cm in depth in a core from Qinghai Lake. The lake is saline (12.5 g/L salinity) and alkaline (pH 9.4) and is located on the Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau at an altitude of 3196 m above sea level. Pore water chemistry of the core revealed low concentrations of sulfate and iron (<1 mM), but high concentrations of acetate (40-70 mM) and dissolved organic carbon (1596-5443 mg/L). Total organic carbon and total nitrogen contents in the sediments were approximately 2 and <0.5%, respectively. Acridine orange direct count data indicated that cell numbers decreased from 4 x 10(9) cells/g at the water-sediment interface to 6 x 10(7) cells/g wet sediment at the 40-cm depth. This change in biomass was positively correlated with acetate concentration in pore water. Phospholipid fatty acid (PLFA) community structure analyses determined decrease in the proportion of the Proteobacteria and increase in the Firmicutes with increased depth. Characterization of small subunit (SSU) rRNA genes amplified from the sediments indicated a shift in the bacterial community with depth. Whereas the alpha-, beta-, and gamma-Proteobacteria and the Cytophaga/Flavobacterium/Bacteroides (CFB) were dominant at the water-sediment interface, low G + C gram-positive bacteria (a subgroup of Firmicutes) became the predominant group in the anoxic sediments. Both PLFA and the sequence data showed similar trend. The Proteobacteria, CFB, and gram-positive bacteria are present in other saline lakes, but the presence of Actinobacteria and Acidobacteria/Holophaga in significant proportions in the Qinghai Lake sediments appears to be unique. The archaeal diversity was much lower, and clone sequences could be grouped in the Euryarchaeota and Crenarchaeota domains. The archaeal clones were not related to any known cultures but to sequences previously found in methane-rich sediments. Acetate-utilizing methanogens were isolated from sediment incubations, and alpha- and gamma-proteobacterial isolates were obtained from a water sample from the lake-bottom (23 m). Our data collectively showed that the observed diversity and shift in the community structure with depth was correlated with geochemical parameters (the redox state and availability of electron acceptor and donor). Heterotrophic methanogenesis is possibly adominant metabolic process in the Qinghai Lake sediments. These results reinforce the importance of geochemical controls on microbial ecology in saline and alkaline lake environments.

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