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ISME J. 2014 Jun;8(6):1166-74. doi: 10.1038/ismej.2013.237. Epub 2014 Jan 16.

Humboldt's spa: microbial diversity is controlled by temperature in geothermal environments.

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Department of Biological Sciences, University of Calgary, Calgary, Alberta, Canada.
Niagara Catholic District School Board, Welland, Ontario, Canada.
Geological Survey of Canada, Calgary, Alberta, Canada.
GNS Science, Extremophile Research Group, Taupo, New Zealand.


Over 200 years ago Alexander von Humboldt (1808) observed that plant and animal diversity peaks at tropical latitudes and decreases toward the poles, a trend he attributed to more favorable temperatures in the tropics. Studies to date suggest that this temperature-diversity gradient is weak or nonexistent for Bacteria and Archaea. To test the impacts of temperature as well as pH on bacterial and archaeal diversity, we performed pyrotag sequencing of 16S rRNA genes retrieved from 165 soil, sediment and biomat samples of 36 geothermal areas in Canada and New Zealand, covering a temperature range of 7.5-99 °C and a pH range of 1.8-9.0. This represents the widest ranges of temperature and pH yet examined in a single microbial diversity study. Species richness and diversity indices were strongly correlated to temperature, with R(2) values up to 0.62 for neutral-alkaline springs. The distributions were unimodal, with peak diversity at 24 °C and decreasing diversity at higher and lower temperature extremes. There was also a significant pH effect on diversity; however, in contrast to previous studies of soil microbial diversity, pH explained less of the variability (13-20%) than temperature in the geothermal samples. No correlation was observed between diversity values and latitude from the equator, and we therefore infer a direct temperature effect in our data set. These results demonstrate that temperature exerts a strong control on microbial diversity when considered over most of the temperature range within which life is possible.

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