We deployed sediment traps adjacent to two active hydrothermal vents at 9°50′N on the East Pacific Rise (EPR) to assess the variability in bacterial community structure associated with plume particles on the timescale of weeks to months, to determine whether an endemic population of plume microbes exists, and to establish ecological relationships between bacterial populations and vent chemistry. Automated rRNA intergenic spacer analysis (ARISA) indicated that there are separate communities at the two different vents and temporal community variations between each vent. Correlation analysis between chemistry and microbiology indicated that shifts in the coarse particulate (>1 mm) Fe/(Fe+Mn+Al), Cu, V, Ca, Al, 232Th, and Ti as well as fine-grained particulate (<1 mm) Fe/(Fe+Mn+Al), Fe, Ca, and Co are reflected in shifts in microbial populations. 16S rRNA clone libraries from each trap at three time points revealed a high percentage of Epsilonproteobacteria clones and hyperthermophilic Aquificae. There is a shift toward the end of the experiment to more Gammaproteobacteria and Alphaproteobacteria, many of whom likely participate in Fe and S cycling. The particle-attached plume environment is genetically distinct from the surrounding seawater. While work to date in hydrothermal environments has focused on determining the microbial communities on hydrothermal chimneys and the basaltic lavas that form the surrounding seafloor, little comparable data exist on the plume environment that physically and chemically connects them. By employing sediment traps for a time-series approach to sampling, we show that bacterial community composition on plume particles changes on timescales much shorter than previously known.
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