Cyanobacteria and chloroflexi-dominated hypolithic colonization of quartz at the hyper-arid core of the Atacama Desert, Chile.
ABSTRACT: Quartz stones are ubiquitous in deserts and are a substrate for hypoliths, microbial colonists of the underside of such stones. These hypoliths thrive where extreme temperature and moisture stress limit the occurrence of higher plant and animal life. Several studies have reported the occurrence of green hypolithic colonization dominated by cyanobacteria. Here, we describe a novel red hypolithic colonization from Yungay, at the hyper-arid core of the Atacama Desert in Chile. Comparative analysis of green and red hypoliths from this site revealed markedly different microbial community structure as revealed by 16S rRNA gene clone libraries. Green hypoliths were dominated by cyanobacteria (Chroococcidiopsis and Nostocales phylotypes), whilst the red hypolith was dominated by a taxonomically diverse group of chloroflexi. Heterotrophic phylotypes common to all hypoliths were affiliated largely to desiccation-tolerant taxa within the Actinobacteria and Deinococci. Alphaproteobacterial phylotypes that affiliated with nitrogen-fixing taxa were unique to green hypoliths, whilst Gemmatimonadetes phylotypes occurred only on red hypolithon. Other heterotrophic phyla recovered with very low frequency were assumed to represent functionally relatively unimportant taxa.
Project description:Global patterns in diversity were estimated for cyanobacteria-dominated hypolithic communities that colonize ventral surfaces of quartz stones and are common in desert environments. A total of 64 hypolithic communities were recovered from deserts on every continent plus a tropical moisture sufficient location. Community diversity was estimated using a combined t-RFLP fingerprinting and high throughput sequencing approach. The t-RFLP analysis revealed desert communities were different from the single non-desert location. A striking pattern also emerged where Antarctic desert communities were clearly distinct from all other deserts. Some overlap in community similarity occurred for hot, cold and tundra deserts. A further observation was that the producer-consumer ratio displayed a significant negative correlation with growing season, such that shorter growing seasons supported communities with greater abundance of producers, and this pattern was independent of macroclimate. High-throughput sequencing of 16S rRNA and nifH genes from four representative samples validated the t-RFLP study and revealed patterns of taxonomic and putative diazotrophic diversity for desert communities from the Taklimakan Desert, Tibetan Plateau, Canadian Arctic and Antarctic. All communities were dominated by cyanobacteria and among these 21 taxa were potentially endemic to any given desert location. Some others occurred in all but the most extreme hot and polar deserts suggesting they were relatively less well adapted to environmental stress. The t-RFLP and sequencing data revealed the two most abundant cyanobacterial taxa were Phormidium in Antarctic and Tibetan deserts and Chroococcidiopsis in hot and cold deserts. The Arctic tundra displayed a more heterogenous cyanobacterial assemblage and this was attributed to the maritime-influenced sampling location. The most abundant heterotrophic taxa were ubiquitous among samples and belonged to the Acidobacteria, Actinobacteria, Bacteroidetes, and Proteobacteria. Sequencing using nitrogenase gene-specific primers revealed all putative diazotrophs were Proteobacteria of the orders Burkholderiales, Rhizobiales, and Rhodospirillales. We envisage cyanobacterial carbon input to the system is accompanied by nitrogen fixation largely from non-cyanobacterial taxa. Overall the results indicate desert hypoliths worldwide are dominated by cyanobacteria and that growing season is a useful predictor of their abundance. Differences in cyanobacterial taxa encountered may reflect their adaptation to different moisture availability regimes in polar and non-polar deserts.
Project description:Hypoliths, microbial assemblages found below translucent rocks, provide important ecosystem services in deserts. While several studies have assessed microbial diversity of hot desert hypoliths and whether these communities are metabolically active, the interactions among taxa remain unclear. Here, we assessed the structure, diversity, and co-occurrence patterns of hypolithic communities from the hyperarid Namib Desert by comparing total (DNA) and potentially active (RNA) communities. The potentially active and total hypolithic communities differed in their composition and diversity, with significantly higher levels of Cyanobacteria and Alphaproteobacteria in potentially active hypoliths. Several phyla known to be abundant in total hypolithic communities were metabolically inactive, indicating that some hypolithic taxa may be dormant or dead. The potentially active hypolith network was highly modular in structure with almost exclusively positive co-occurrences (>95% of the total) between taxa. Members of the Cyanobacteria and Alphaproteobacteria were identified as potential keystone taxa, and exhibited numerous positive co-occurrences with other microbes, suggesting that these groups might have important roles in maintaining network topological structure despite their low abundance.
Project description:The McMurdo Dry Valleys of Antarctica are an extreme polar desert. Mineral soils support subsurface microbial communities and translucent rocks support development of hypolithic communities on ventral surfaces in soil contact. Despite significant research attention, relatively little is known about taxonomic and functional diversity or their inter-relationships. Here we report a combined diversity and functional interrogation for soil and hypoliths of the Miers Valley in the McMurdo Dry Valleys of Antarctica. The study employed 16S rRNA fingerprinting and high throughput sequencing combined with the GeoChip functional microarray. The soil community was revealed as a highly diverse reservoir of bacterial diversity dominated by actinobacteria. Hypolithic communities were less diverse and dominated by cyanobacteria. Major differences in putative functionality were that soil communities displayed greater diversity in stress tolerance and recalcitrant substrate utilization pathways, whilst hypolithic communities supported greater diversity of nutrient limitation adaptation pathways. A relatively high level of functional redundancy in both soil and hypoliths may indicate adaptation of these communities to fluctuating environmental conditions.
Project description:Hypoliths (cryptic microbial assemblages that develop on the undersides of translucent rocks) are significant contributors to regional C and N budgets in both hot and cold deserts. Previous studies in the Dry Valleys of Eastern Antarctica have reported three morphologically distinct hypolithic community types: cyanobacteria dominated (type I), fungus dominated (type II) and moss dominated (type III). Here we present terminal-restriction fragment length polymorphism analyses to elucidate the bacterial community structure in hypolithons and the surrounding soils. We show clear and robust distinction in bacterial composition between bulk surface soils and hypolithons. Moreover, the bacterial assemblages were similar in types II and III hypolithons and clearly distinct from those found in type I. Through 16S rRNA gene 454 pyrosequencing, we show that Proteobacteria dominated all three types of hypolithic communities. As expected, Cyanobacteria were more abundant in type I hypolithons, whereas Actinobacteria were relatively more abundant in types II and III hypolithons, and were the dominant group in soils. Using a probabilistic dissimilarity metric and random sampling, we demonstrate that deterministic processes are more important in shaping the structure of the bacterial community found in types II and III hypolithons. Most notably, the data presented in this study suggest that hypolithic bacterial communities establish via a successional model, with the type I hypolithons acting as the basal development state.
Project description:Saxicolous rock ripe lichens that grow on rocks in the East Antarctic fellfields were sampled for phylotypic characterization of its constituent mycobionts (fungi) and photobionts (algae and cyanobacteria). The rock tripe lichen-forming fungal and algal phylotypes were classified under the common lichen-forming genera of ascomycetes, namely, Umbilicaria, and green algae, namely, Trebouxia and Coccomyxa. However, phylotypes of the green algal chloroplasts and the lichen-associated cyanobacteria showed unexpectedly high diversity. The detected chloroplast phylotypes were not fully affiliated with the green algal genera Trebouxia or Coccomyxa. The predominant chloroplast phylotype demonstrated maximum resemblance to Neglectella solitaria, which is neither a known Antarctic species nor a typical lichen photobiont. Another dominant chloroplast phylotype belonged to the atypical Antarctic green algae family. Cyanobacterial phylotypes were dominated by those affiliated with the Microcoleus species rather than the well-known lichen-associates, Nostoc species. The occurrences of these Microcoleus-affiliated cyanobacterial phylotypes were specifically abundant within the Yukidori Valley site, one of the Antarctic Specially Protected Areas (ASPA). The ASPA site, along with another 50 km-distant site, yielded most of the cryptic diversity in the phylotypes of chloroplasts and cyanobacteria, which may contribute to the phenotypic variability within the rock tripe lichen photobionts.
Project description:The discovery of extensive and complex hypolithic communities in both cold and hot deserts has raised many questions regarding their ecology, biodiversity and relevance in terms of regional productivity. However, most hypolithic research has focused on the bacterial elements of the community. This study represents the first investigation of micro-eukaryotic communities in all three hypolith types. Here we show that Antarctic hypoliths support extensive populations of novel uncharacterized bryophyta, fungi and protists and suggest that well known producer-decomposer-predator interactions may create the necessary conditions for hypolithic productivity in Antarctic deserts.
Project description:Understanding microbial adaptation to environmental stressors is crucial for interpreting broader ecological patterns. In the most extreme hot and cold deserts, cryptic niche communities are thought to play key roles in ecosystem processes and represent excellent model systems for investigating microbial responses to environmental stressors. However, relatively little is known about the genetic diversity underlying such functional processes in climatically extreme desert systems. This study presents the first comparative metagenome analysis of cyanobacteria-dominated hypolithic communities in hot (Namib Desert, Namibia) and cold (Miers Valley, Antarctica) hyperarid deserts. The most abundant phyla in both hypolith metagenomes were Actinobacteria, Proteobacteria, Cyanobacteria and Bacteroidetes with Cyanobacteria dominating in Antarctic hypoliths. However, no significant differences between the two metagenomes were identified. The Antarctic hypolithic metagenome displayed a high number of sequences assigned to sigma factors, replication, recombination and repair, translation, ribosomal structure, and biogenesis. In contrast, the Namib Desert metagenome showed a high abundance of sequences assigned to carbohydrate transport and metabolism. Metagenome data analysis also revealed significant divergence in the genetic determinants of amino acid and nucleotide metabolism between these two metagenomes and those of soil from other polar deserts, hot deserts, and non-desert soils. Our results suggest extensive niche differentiation in hypolithic microbial communities from these two extreme environments and a high genetic capacity for survival under environmental extremes.
Project description:Carbon exchange in drylands is typically low, but during significant rainfall events (wet anomalies) drylands act as a C sink. During these anomalies the limitation on C uptake switches from water to nitrogen. In the Namib Desert of southern Africa, the N inventory in soil organic matter available for mineralisation is insufficient to support the observed increase in primary productivity. The C4 grasses that flourish after rainfall events are not capable of N fixation, and so there is no clear mechanism for adequate N fixation in dryland ecosystems to support rapid C uptake. Here we demonstrate that N fixation by photoautotrophic hypolithic communities forms the basis for the N budget for plant productivity events in the Namib Desert. Stable N isotope (?15N) values of Namib Desert hypolithic biomass, and surface and subsurface soils were measured over 3 years across dune and gravel plain biotopes. Hypoliths showed significantly higher biomass and lower ?15N values than soil organic matter. The ?15N values of hypoliths approach the theoretical values for nitrogen fixation. Our results are strongly indicative that hypolithic communities are the foundation of productivity after rain events in the Namib Desert and are likely to play similar roles in other arid environments.
Project description:The hypolithic microbial community associated with quartz pavement at a high-altitude tundra location in central Tibet is described. A small-scale ecological survey indicated that 36% of quartz rocks were colonized. Community profiling using terminal restriction fragment length polymorphism revealed no significant difference in community structure among a number of colonized rocks. Real-time quantitative PCR and phylogenetic analysis of environmental phylotypes obtained from clone libraries were used to elucidate community structure across all domains. The hypolithon was dominated by cyanobacterial phylotypes (73%) with relatively low frequencies of other bacterial phylotypes, largely represented by the chloroflexi, actinobacteria, and bacteriodetes. Unidentified crenarchaeal phylotypes accounted for 4% of recoverable phylotypes, while algae, fungi, and mosses were indicated by a small fraction of recoverable phylotypes.
Project description:Several species of dryland cyanobacteria are known to occur as hypoliths under semi-translucent rocks. In the Mojave Desert, these organisms find refuge from intense solar radiation under milky quartz where moisture persists for a longer period of time than in adjacent soil surface habitat. Desert mosses, which are extremely desiccation-tolerant, can also occur in these hypolithic spaces, though little is known about this unique moss microhabitat and how species composition compares to that of adjacent soil surface communities. To address this question, we deployed microclimate dataloggers and collected moss samples from under and adjacent to 18 milky quartz rocks (quartz mean center thickness 26 ± 15 mm) in a western high elevation Mojave Desert site. Light transmission through Mojave quartz rocks may be as low as 1.2%, and data from microclimate loggers deployed for five months support the hypothesis that quartz provides thermal buffering and higher relative humidity compared to the soil surface. Of the 53 samples collected from hypolith and surface microhabitats, 68% were Syntrichia caninervis, the dominant bryophyte of the Mojave Desert biological soil crust. Tortula inermis accounted for 28% of the samples and 4% were Bryum argenteum. In a comparison of moss community composition, we found that S. caninervis was more likely to be on the soil surface, though it was abundant in both microhabitats, while T. inermis was more restricted to hypoliths, perhaps due to protection from temperature extremes. In our study site, the differences between hypolithic and surface microhabitats enable niche partitioning between T. inermis and S. caninervis, enhancing alpha diversity. This work points to the need to thoroughly consider microhabitats when assessing bryophyte species diversity and modelling species distributions. This focus is particularly important in extreme environments, where mosses may find refuge from the prevailing macroclimatic conditions in microhabitats such as hypoliths.