A culture-independent community census was combined with chemical and thermodynamic analyses of three springs located within the Long Valley Caldera, Little Hot Creek (LHC) 1, 3, and 4. All three springs were approximately 80 °C, circumneutral, apparently anaerobic and had similar water chemistries. 16S rRNA gene libraries constructed from DNA isolated from spring sediment revealed moderately diverse but highly novel microbial communities. Over half of the phylotypes could not be grouped into known taxonomic classes. Bacterial libraries from LHC1 and LHC3 were predominantly species within the phyla Aquificae and Thermodesulfobacteria, while those from LHC4 were dominated by candidate phyla, including OP1 and OP9. Archaeal libraries from LHC3 contained large numbers of Archaeoglobales and Desulfurococcales, while LHC1 and LHC4 were dominated by Crenarchaeota unaffiliated with known orders. The heterogeneity in microbial populations could not easily be attributed to measurable differences in water chemistry, but may be determined by availability of trace amounts of oxygen to the spring sediments. Thermodynamic modeling predicted the most favorable reactions to be sulfur and nitrate respirations, yielding 40–70 kJ mol−1 e− transferred; however, levels of oxygen at or below our detection limit could result in aerobic respirations yielding up to 100 kJ mol−1 e− transferred. Important electron donors are predicted to be H2, H2S, S0, Fe2+ and CH4, all of which yield similar energies when coupled to a given electron acceptor. The results indicate that springs associated with the Long Valley Caldera contain microbial populations that show some similarities both to springs in Yellowstone and springs in the Great Basin.
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