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Summary

Thrombolites are unlaminated carbonate structures that form as a result of the metabolic interactions of complex microbial mat communities. Thrombolites have a long geological history; however, little is known regarding the microbes associated with modern structures. In this study, we use a barcoded 16S rRNA gene-pyrosequencing approach coupled with morphological analysis to assess the bacterial, cyanobacterial and archaeal diversity associated with actively forming thrombolites found in Highborne Cay, Bahamas. Analyses revealed four distinct microbial mat communities referred to as black, beige, pink and button mats on the surfaces of the thrombolites. At a coarse phylogenetic resolution, the domain bacterial sequence libraries from the four mats were similar, with Proteobacteria and Cyanobacteria being the most abundant. At the finer resolution of the rRNA gene sequences, significant differences in community structure were observed, with dramatically different cyanobacterial communities. Of the four mat types, the button mats contained the highest diversity of Cyanobacteria, and were dominated by two sequence clusters with high similarity to the genus Dichothrix, an organism associated with the deposition of carbonate. Archaeal diversity was low, but varied in all mat types, and the archaeal community was predominately composed of members of the Thaumarchaeota and Euryarchaeota. The morphological and genetic data support the hypothesis that the four mat types are distinctive thrombolitic mat communities.