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ABSTRACT

Lake Bonney is a chemically stratified, permanently ice-covered Antarctic lake that is unusual because anomalous nutrient concentrations in the east lobe suggest that denitrification occurs in the deep suboxic waters of the west lobe but not the east lobe, resulting in high concentrations of nitrate and nitrite below the east lobe chemocline. Environmental factors that usually control denitrification rates (e.g. organic carbon, nitrate, oxygen) do not appear to explain the nitrate distribution in the east lobe, suggesting that other factors (e.g. trace metals, salts, microbial community structure, etc.) may be involved. In order to explore the potential importance of microbial community composition, samples collected from multiple depths in both lobes were compared on the basis of 16S rRNA gene diversity. 16S rRNA polymerase chain reaction (PCR) clone libraries generated from five depths were subjected to restriction fragment length polymorphism (RFLP), rarefaction, statistical and phylogenetic analyses. Bacterial and archaeal 16S rRNA gene sequences were determined for clones corresponding to unique RFLP patterns. The bacterial community below the chemocline (at 25 m) in the east lobe was the least diverse of the five depths analysed and was compositionally distinct from the communities of the overlying waters. The greatest compositional overlap was observed between 16 and 19 m in the east lobe, while the east lobe at 25 m and the west lobe at 13 and 16 m had relatively distinct communities. Despite very little compositional overlap between the suboxic, hypersaline depths of the east and west lobes (25 m and 16 m, respectively), sequences closely related to the denitrifying Marinobacter strain ELB17 previously isolated from the east lobe were found in both libraries. Most of the Lake Bonney sequences are fairly distinct from those reported from other Antarctic environments. Archaeal 16S rRNA genes were only successfully amplified from the two hypersaline depths analysed, with only one identical halophilic sequence type occurring in both libraries, indicating extremely low archaeal diversity. Overall, microbial community composition varies both between lobes and across depths within lobes in Lake Bonney, reflecting the steep gradients in physical/chemical parameters across the chemocline, as well as the anomalous nutrient chemistry of the system.