Little is known about protists at deep-sea hydrothermal vents. The vent sites at Guaymas Basin in the Gulf of California are characterized by dense mats of filamentous pigmented or nonpigmented Beggiatoa that serve as markers of subsurface thermochemical gradients. We constructed 18S rRNA libraries to investigate ciliate assemblages in Beggiatoa mats and from bare sediments at the Guaymas vent site. Results indicated a high diversity of ciliates, with 156 operational taxonomic units identified in 548 sequences. Comparison between mat environments demonstrated that ciliate and bacterial assemblages from pigmented mats, nonpigmented mats, and bare sediments were significantly different and highly correlated with bacterial assemblages. Neither bacterial nor ciliate assemblages were correlated with environmental factors. The most abundant ciliates at Guaymas were more likely to be represented in clone libraries from other hydrothermal, deep-sea, and/or anoxic or microaerophilic environments, supporting the hypothesis that these ciliate species are broadly distributed. The orange mat environment included a higher proportion of ciliate sequences that were more similar to those from other environmental studies than to cultured ciliate species, whereas clone libraries from bare sediments included sequences that were the most highly divergent from all other sequences and may represent species that are endemic to Guaymas.
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