Niche differentiation among mat-forming, sulfide-oxidizing bacteria at cold seeps of the Nile Deep Sea Fan (Eastern Mediterranean Sea)


Corresponding author: S. Grünke. Tel.: +49 (0) 421 2028 866; fax: +49 (0) 421 2028 690; e-mail:


Sulfidic muds of cold seeps on the Nile Deep Sea Fan (NDSF) are populated by different types of mat-forming sulfide-oxidizing bacteria. The predominant sulfide oxidizers of three different mats were identified by microscopic and phylogenetic analyses as (i) Arcobacter species producing cotton-ball-like sulfur precipitates, (ii) large filamentous sulfur bacteria including Beggiatoa species, and (iii) single, spherical Thiomargarita species. High resolution in situ microprofiles revealed different geochemical settings selecting for the different mat types. Arcobacter mats occurred where oxygen and sulfide overlapped above the seafloor in the bottom water interface. Filamentous sulfide oxidizers were associated with steep gradients of oxygen and sulfide in the sediment. A dense population of Thiomargarita was favored by temporarily changing supplies of oxygen and sulfide in the bottom water. These results indicate that the decisive factors in selecting for different mat-forming bacteria within one deep-sea province are spatial or temporal variations in energy supply. Furthermore, the occurrence of Arcobacter spp.-related 16S rRNA genes in the sediments below all three types of mats, as well as on top of brine lakes of the NDSF, indicates that this group of sulfide oxidizers can switch between different life modes depending on the geobiochemical habitat setting.