Shifts in methanogen community structure and function associated with long-term manipulation of sulfate and salinity in a hypersaline microbial mat


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Methanogenesis was characterized in hypersaline microbial mats from Guerrero Negro, Baja California Sur, Mexico both in situ and after long-term manipulation in a greenhouse environment. Substrate addition experiments indicate methanogenesis to occur primarily through the catabolic demethylation of non-competitive substrates, under field conditions. However, evidence for the coexistence of other metabolic guilds of methanogens was obtained during a previous manipulation of sulfate concentrations. To fully characterize methanogenesis in these mats, in the absence of competition for reducing equivalents with sulfate-reducing microorganisms, we maintained microbial mats for longer than 1 year under conditions of lowered sulfate and salinity levels. The goal of this study was to assess whether observed differences in methane production during sulfate and salinity manipulation were accompanied by shifts in the composition of methanogen communities. Culture-independent techniques targeting methyl coenzyme M reductase genes (mcrA) were used to assess the dynamics of methanogen assemblages. Clone libraries from mats sampled in situ or maintained at field-like conditions in the greenhouse were exclusively composed of sequences related to methylotrophic members of the Methanosarcinales. Increases in pore water methane concentrations under conditions of low sulfate correlated with an observed increase in the abundance of putatively hydrogenotrophic mcrA, related to Methanomicrobiales. Geochemical and molecular data provide evidence of a significant shift in the metabolic pathway of methanogenesis from a methylotroph-dominated system in high-sulfate environments to a mixed community of methylotrophic and hydrogenotrophic methanogens under low sulfate conditions.