Unique geothermal chemistry shapes microbial communities on Mt. Erebus, Antarctica
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Permanent link to Research Commons versionhttps://hdl.handle.net/10289/15248
Mt. Erebus, Antarctica, is the world’s southernmost active volcano and is unique in its isolation from other major active volcanic systems and its distinctive geothermal systems. Using 16S rRNA gene amplicon sequencing and physicochemical analyses, we compared samples collected at two contrasting high-temperature (50°C–65°C) sites on Mt. Erebus: Tramway Ridge, a weather-protected high biomass site, and Western Crater, an extremely exposed low biomass site. Samples were collected along three thermal gradients, one from Western Crater and two within Tramway Ridge, which allowed an examination of the heterogeneity present at Tramway Ridge. We found distinct soil compositions between the two sites, and to a lesser extent within Tramway Ridge, correlated with disparate microbial communities. Notably, pH, not temperature, showed the strongest correlation with these differences. The abundance profiles of several microbial groups were different between the two sites; class Nitrososphaeria amplicon sequence variants (ASVs) dominated the community profiles at Tramway Ridge, whereas Acidobacteriotal ASVs were only found at Western Crater. A co-occurrence network, paired with physicochemical analyses, allowed for finer scale analysis of parameters correlated with differential abundance profiles, with various parameters (total carbon, total nitrogen, soil moisture, soil conductivity, sulfur, phosphorous, and iron) showing significant correlations. ASVs assigned to Chloroflexi classes Ktedonobacteria and Chloroflexia were detected at both sites. Based on the known metabolic capabilities of previously studied members of these groups, we predict that chemolithotrophy is a common strategy in this system. These analyses highlight the importance of conducting broader-scale metagenomics and cultivation efforts at Mt. Erebus to better understand this unique environment.
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