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A shift in the archaeal nitrifier community in response to natural and anthropogenic disturbances in the northern Gulf of Mexico



The Gulf of Mexico is affected by hurricanes and suffers seasonal hypoxia. The Deepwater Horizon oil spill impacted every trophic level in the coastal region. Despite their importance in bioremediation and biogeochemical cycles, it is difficult to predict the responses of microbial communities to physical and anthropogenic disturbances. Here, we quantify sediment ammonia-oxidizing archaeal (AOA) community diversity, resistance and resilience, and important geochemical factors after major hurricanes and the oil spill. Dominant AOA archetypes correlated with different geochemical factors, suggesting that different AOA are constrained by distinct parameters. Diversity was lowest after the hurricanes, showing weak resistance to physical disturbances. However, diversity was highest during the oil spill and coincided with a community shift, suggesting a new alternative stable state sustained for at least 1 year. The new AOA community was not significantly different from that at the spill site 1 year after the spill. This sustained shift in nitrifier community structure may be a result of oil exposure.