Early colonization of thermal niches in a silica-depositing hot spring in central Tibet


Corresponding author: Stephen B. Pointing, Tel.: (852) 22990677; fax: (852) 25599114; e-mail: pointing@hku.hk.


Thermophilic microbial mats dominated by the anoxygenic phototroph Roseiflexus castenholzii commonly develop around sinter-depositing geysers in the Daggyai Tso geothermal field of central Tibet. In this study we used morphological and molecular genetic techniques to reveal a diverse pioneer biofilm community including both archaea and bacteria involved in early colonization of such thermal niches at temperatures ranging from 46 to 77 °C. Sinter precipitation and biomineralization were evident at all locations, but the latter was selective between taxa and most evident on filamentous cells. Evidence for possible indirect biosignatures from biofilms overwhelmed by sinter deposition was found. Succession to a mature community appeared to relate to the growth rate for key taxa outpacing that of silicification within an optimum temperature range of 54–61 °C. The thin surface layer of silicification-resistant cyanobacteria that developed on the surface of mature mats may play a role in preventing biomineralization of the susceptible R. castenholzii beneath within these communities.