Get access

Microbial community structure and sulfur biogeochemistry in mildly-acidic sulfidic geothermal springs in Yellowstone National Park


Corresponding author: W.P. Inskeep. Tel.: +406 994 5077; fax: +406 994 3933; e-mail:


Geothermal and hydrothermal waters often contain high concentrations of dissolved sulfide, which reacts with oxygen (abiotically or biotically) to yield elemental sulfur and other sulfur species that may support microbial metabolism. The primary goal of this study was to elucidate predominant biogeochemical processes important in sulfur biogeochemistry by identifying predominant sulfur species and describing microbial community structure within high-temperature, hypoxic, sulfur sediments ranging in pH from 4.2 to 6.1. Detailed analysis of aqueous species and solid phases present in hypoxic sulfur sediments revealed unique habitats containing high concentrations of dissolved sulfide, thiosulfate, and arsenite, as well as rhombohedral and spherical elemental sulfur and/or sulfide phases such as orpiment, stibnite, and pyrite, as well as alunite and quartz. Results from 16S rRNA gene sequencing show that these sediments are dominated by Crenarchaeota of the orders Desulfurococcales and Thermoproteales. Numerous cultivated representatives of these lineages, as well as the Thermoproteales strain (WP30) isolated in this study, require complex sources of carbon and respire elemental sulfur. We describe a new archaeal isolate (strain WP30) belonging to the order Thermoproteales (phylum Crenarchaeota, 98% identity to Pyrobaculum/Thermoproteus spp. 16S rRNA genes), which was obtained from sulfur sediments using in situ geochemical composition to design cultivation medium. This isolate produces sulfide during growth, which further promotes the formation of sulfide phases including orpiment, stibnite, or pyrite, depending on solution conditions. Geochemical, molecular, and physiological data were integrated to suggest primary factors controlling microbial community structure and function in high-temperature sulfur sediments.