Anaerobic methane-oxidizing microbial communities in sediments at cold methane seeps are important factors in controlling methane emission to the ocean and atmosphere. Here, we investigated the distribution and carbon isotopic signature of specific biomarkers derived from anaerobic methanotrophic archaea (ANME groups) and sulphate-reducing bacteria (SRB) responsible for the anaerobic oxidation of methane (AOM) at different cold seep provinces of Hydrate Ridge, Cascadia margin. The special focus was on their relation to in situ cell abundances and methane turnover. In general, maxima in biomarker abundances and minima in carbon isotope signatures correlated with maxima in AOM and sulphate reduction as well as with consortium biomass. We found ANME-2a/DSS aggregates associated with high abundances of sn-2,3-di-O-isoprenoidal glycerol ethers (archaeol, sn-2-hydroxyarchaeol) and specific bacterial fatty acids (C16:1ω5c, cyC17:0ω5,6) as well as with high methane fluxes (Beggiatoa site). The low to medium flux site (Calyptogena field) was dominated by ANME-2c/DSS aggregates and contained less of both compound classes but more of AOM-related glycerol dialkyl glycerol tetraethers (GDGTs). ANME-1 archaea dominated deeper sediment horizons at the Calyptogena field where sn-1,2-di-O-alkyl glycerol ethers (DAGEs), archaeol, methyl-branched fatty acids (ai-C15:0, i-C16:0, ai-C17:0), and diagnostic GDGTs were prevailing. AOM-specific bacterial and archaeal biomarkers in these sediment strata generally revealed very similar δ13C-values of around −100. In ANME-2-dominated sediment sections, archaeal biomarkers were even more 13C-depleted (down to −120), whereas bacterial biomarkers were found to be likewise 13C-depleted as in ANME-1-dominated sediment layers (δ13C: −100). The zero flux site (Acharax field), containing only a few numbers of ANME-2/DSS aggregates, however, provided no specific biomarker pattern. Deeper sediment sections (below 20 cm sediment depth) from Beggiatoa covered areas which included solid layers of methane gas hydrates contained ANME-2/DSS typical biomarkers showing subsurface peaks combined with negative shifts in carbon isotopic compositions. The maxima were detected just above the hydrate layers, indicating that methane stored in the hydrates may be available for the microbial community. The observed variations in biomarker abundances and 13C-depletions are indicative of multiple environmental and physiological factors selecting for different AOM consortia (ANME-2a/DSS, ANME-2c/DSS, ANME-1) along horizontal and vertical gradients of cold seep settings.
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