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Summary

The ultramafic-hosted Logatchev hydrothermal field (LHF) is characterized by vent fluids, which are enriched in dissolved hydrogen and methane compared with fluids from basalt-hosted systems. Thick sediment layers in LHF are partly covered by characteristic white mats. In this study, these sediments were investigated in order to determine biogeochemical processes and key organisms relevant for primary production. Temperature profiling at two mat-covered sites showed a conductive heating of the sediments. Elemental sulfur was detected in the overlying mat and metal-sulfides in the upper sediment layer. Microprofiles revealed an intensive hydrogen sulfide flux from deeper sediment layers. Fluorescence in situ hybridization showed that filamentous and vibrioid, Arcobacter-related Epsilonproteobacteria dominated the overlying mats. This is in contrast to sulfidic sediments in basalt-hosted fields where mats of similar appearance are composed of large sulfur-oxidizing Gammaproteobacteria. Epsilonproteobacteria (7–21%) and Deltaproteobacteria (20–21%) were highly abundant in the surface sediment layer. The physiology of the closest cultivated relatives, revealed by comparative 16S rRNA sequence analysis, was characterized by the capability to metabolize sulfur components. High sulfate reduction rates as well as sulfide depleted in 34S further confirmed the importance of the biogeochemical sulfur cycle. In contrast, methane was found to be of minor relevance for microbial life in mat-covered surface sediments. Our data indicate that in conductively heated surface sediments microbial sulfur cycling is the driving force for bacterial biomass production although ultramafic-hosted systems are characterized by fluids with high levels of dissolved methane and hydrogen.