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Summary

Previous investigations of the salinity effects on the microbial community composition have largely been limited to dynamic estuaries and coastal solar salterns. In this study, the effects of salinity and mineralogy on microbial community composition was studied by using a 900-cm sediment core collected from a stable, inland hypersaline lake, Lake Chaka, on the Tibetan Plateau, north-western China. This core, spanning a time of 17 000 years, was unique in that it possessed an entire range of salinity from freshwater clays and silty sands at the bottom to gypsum and glauberite in the middle, to halite at the top. Bacterial and archaeal communities were studied along the length of this core using an integrated approach combining mineralogy and geochemistry, molecular microbiology (16S rRNA gene analysis and quantitative polymerase chain reaction), cultivation and lipid biomarker analyses. Systematic changes in microbial community composition were correlated with the salinity gradient, but not with mineralogy. Bacterial community was dominated by the Firmicutes-related environmental sequences and known species (including sulfate-reducing bacteria) in the freshwater sediments at the bottom, but by halophilic and halotolerant Betaproteobacteria and Bacteroidetes in the hypersaline sediments at the top. Succession of proteobacterial groups along the salinity gradient, typically observed in free-living bacterial communities, was not observed in the sediment-associated community. Among Archaea, the Crenarchaeota were predominant in the bottom freshwater sediments, but the halophilic Halobacteriales of the Euryarchaeota was the most important group in the hypersaline sediments. Multiple isolates were obtained along the whole length of the core, and their salinity tolerance was consistent with the geochemical conditions. Iron-reducing bacteria were isolated in the freshwater sediments, which were capable of reducing structural Fe(III) in the Fe(III)-rich clay minerals predominant in the source sediment. These data have important implications for understanding how microorganisms respond to increased salinity in stable, inland water bodies.