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PLoS One. 2013;8(1):e54326. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0054326. Epub 2013 Jan 23.

Sediment bacterial communities reflect the history of a sea basin.

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Department of Food and Environmental Sciences, University of Helsinki, Helsinki, Finland.


How entire microbial communities are structured across stratified sediments from the historical standpoint is unknown. The Baltic Sea is an ideal research object for historical reconstruction, since it has experienced many fresh- and brackish water periods and is depleted of dissolved oxygen, which increases the sediment's preservation potential. We investigated the bacterial communities, chemical elements (e.g. Cr, Pb Na, P, Sr and U) and sediment composition in a stratified sediment core dated by radiocarbon and spanning 8000 years of Baltic Sea history, using up-to-date multivariate statistics. The communities were analysed by 16S rRNA gene terminal restriction fragment length polymorphism. The communities of the deep Early Litorina and surface Late Litorina Sea laminae were separated from the communities of the middle Litorina Sea laminae, which were associated with elevated concentrations of U and Sr trace elements, palaeo-oxygen and palaeosalinity proxies. Thus, the Litorina Sea laminae were characterized by past oxygen deficiency and salinity increase. The communities of the laminae, bioturbated and homogeneous sediments were differentiated, based on the same historical sea phases, with correct classifications of 90%. Palaeosalinity was one of the major parameters that separated the bacterial communities of the stratified sediments. A discontinuous spatial structure with a surprising increase in community heterogeneity was detected in Litorina Sea sediments from 388 to 422 cm deep, which suggests that a salinity maximum occurred in the central Gulf of Finland app. 6200-6600 years ago. The community heterogeneity decreased from the surface down to 306 cm, which reflected downcore mineralization. The plateau of the decrease was in the app. 2000-year-old sediment layers. Bacterial community data may be used as an additional tool in ocean-drilling projects, in which it is important to detect mineralization plateaus both to determine historically comparable portions of sediment samples and historical events, such as sea-level rise culminations.

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