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Summary

To evaluate possible compositional changes in archaeal communities at a deep-sea hydrothermal vent field scale, we examined five different samples obtained after deploying in situ collectors for different times on three spatially separated venting sulphide structures on the East Pacific Rise (13°N). Direct cell counts and whole-cell hybridizations with fluorescently labelled 16S rRNA-based oligonucleotide probes revealed that the relative abundance of archaeal populations represented from 14 to 33% of the prokaryotic community. 16S rDNA sequence analysis of the archaeal clone libraries indicated that a large percentage of clones were closely related to known archaeal isolates recovered from similar habitats. Among the 24 different phylotypes identified, Thermococcales-related sequences were dominant in all the libraries that also included representative genera of orders Methanopyrales, Methanococcales, Archaeoglobales and Desulfurococcales. The presence of most of these phylogenetic groups was confirmed in enrichment cultures performed at temperatures from 60 to 90°C. Additional sequences with no known cultivated relatives grouped with the Marine group I Crenarchaeota, Korarchaeota and Deep-sea Hydrothermal Vent Euryarchaeota (DHVE) within which a novel lineage was identified. Furthermore, the archaeal community composition was distinct from vent to vent within the same vent field and varied within short time scales. This study provides new insights into microbial diversity and distribution at deep-sea hydrothermal vents.