Marine gas and hydrocarbon seeps are hot spots of sulfate reduction which is fuelled by methane, other short-chain alkanes or a complex mixture of hydrocarbons. In this study, we investigated the global distribution and abundance of sulfate-reducing bacteria (SRB) in eight gas and hydrocarbon seeps by catalysed reporter deposition fluorescence in situ hybridization (CARD-FISH). The majority of Deltaproteobacteria were assigned to specific SRB groups, i.e. 83 ± 14% at gas seeps and 61 ± 35% at hydrocarbon seeps, indicating that the probe set used was sufficient for classification of marine SRB. Statistical analysis showed that SRB abundance and distribution were significantly influenced by habitat type and sediment depth. Members of the Desulfosarcina/Desulfococcus (DSS) clade strongly dominated all sites. Our data indicated the presence of many diverse and highly specialized DSS species of low abundance rather than a single abundant subgroup. In addition, SEEP-SRB2, an uncultured deep-branching deltaproteobacterial group, was ubiquitously found in high abundances at all sites. SEEP-SRB2 members occurred either in a novel association with methanotrophic archaea in shell-type ANME-2/SEEP-SRB2 consortia, in association with ANME-1 archaea in Black Sea microbial mats or as single cells. Two other uncultured groups, SEEP-SRB3 and SEEP-SRB4, were preferentially detected in surface sediments from mud volcanoes.
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