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Keywords:

  • sulfur springs;
  • microbial communities;
  • extreme environments;
  • geochemistry;
  • boron

Abstract

The volcanic Sulphur Springs, St. Lucia, present an extreme environment due to high temperatures, low pH values, and high concentrations of sulfate and boron. St. Lucia offers some unique geochemical characteristics that may shape the microbial communities within the Sulphur Springs area. We chose six pools representing a range of geochemical characteristics for detailed microbial community analyses. Chemical concentrations varied greatly between sites. Microbial diversity was analyzed using 16S rRNA gene clone library analyses. With the exception of one pool with relatively low concentrations of dissolved ions, microbial diversity was very low, with Aquificales sequences dominating bacterial communities at most pools. The archaeal component of all pools was almost exclusively Acidianus spp. and did not vary between sites with different chemical characteristics. In the pool with the highest boron and sulfate concentrations, only archaeal sequences were detected. Compared with other sulfur springs such as those at Yellowstone, the microbial diversity at St. Lucia is very different, but it is similar to that at the nearby Lesser Antilles island of Montserrat. While high elemental concentrations seem to be related to differences in bacterial diversity here, similarities with other Lesser Antilles sites suggest that there may be a biogeographical component as well.