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ISME J. 2014 Apr;8(4):804-15. doi: 10.1038/ismej.2013.197. Epub 2013 Nov 14.

Ecological succession among iron-oxidizing bacteria.

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Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences, East Boothbay, ME, USA.
University of Maine, Darling Marine Center, Walpole, ME, USA.
Department of Geological Sciences, University of Delaware, Newark, DE, USA.
Department of Chemistry, Colby College, Waterville, ME, USA.


Despite over 125 years of study, the factors that dictate species dominance in neutrophilic iron-oxidizing bacterial (FeOB) communities remain unknown. In a freshwater wetland, we documented a clear ecological succession coupled with niche separation between the helical stalk-forming Gallionellales (for example, Gallionella ferruginea) and tubular sheath-forming Leptothrix ochracea. Changes in the iron-seep community were documented using microscopy and cultivation-independent methods. Quantification of Fe-oxyhydroxide morphotypes by light microscopy was coupled with species-specific fluorescent in situ hybridization (FISH) probes using a protocol that minimized background fluorescence caused by the Fe-oxyhydroxides. Together with scanning electron microscopy, these techniques all indicated that Gallionellales dominated during early spring, with L. ochracea becoming more abundant for the remainder of the year. Analysis of tagged pyrosequencing reads of the small subunit ribosomal RNA gene (SSU rRNA) collected during seasonal progression supported a clear Gallionellales to L. ochracea transition, and community structure grouped according to observed dominant FeOB forms. Axis of redundancy analysis of physicochemical parameters collected from iron mats during the season, plotted with FeOB abundance, corroborated several field and microscopy-based observations and uncovered several unanticipated relationships. On the basis of these relationships, we conclude that the ecological niche of the stalk-forming Gallionellales is in waters with low organic carbon and steep redoxclines, and the sheath-forming L. ochracea is abundant in waters that contain high concentrations of complex organic carbon, high Fe and Mn content and gentle redoxclines. Finally, these findings identify a largely unexplored relationship between FeOB and organic carbon.

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