Phototrophic microbial mats are compact ecosystems composed of highly interactive organisms in which energy and element cycling take place over millimeter-to-centimeter-scale distances. Although microbial mats are common in hypersaline environments, they have not been extensively characterized in systems dominated by divalent ions. Hot Lake is a meromictic, epsomitic lake that occupies a small, endorheic basin in north-central Washington. The lake harbors a benthic, phototrophic mat that assembl ...[more]
Project description:Microbial autotroph-heterotroph interactions influence biogeochemical cycles on a global scale, but the diversity and complexity of natural systems and their intractability to in situ manipulation make it challenging to elucidate the principles governing these interactions. The study of assembling phototrophic biofilm communities provides a robust means to identify such interactions and evaluate their contributions to the recruitment and maintenance of phylogenetic and functional diversity overtime. To examine primary succession in phototrophic communities, we isolated two unicyanobacterial consortia from the microbial mat in HotLake, Washington, characterizing the membership and metabolic function of each consortium. We then analyzed the spatial structures and quantified the community compositions of their assembling biofilms. The consortia retained the same suite of heterotrophic species, identified as abundant members of the mat and assigned to Alphaproteobacteria, Gammaproteobacteria, and Bacteroidetes. Autotroph growth rates dominated early in assembly, yielding to increasing heterotroph growth rates late in succession. The two consortia exhibited similar assembly patterns, with increasing relative abundances of members from Bacteroidetes and Alphaproteobacteria concurrent with decreasing relative abundances of those from Gamma proteobacteria. Despite these similarities at higher taxonomic levels, the relative abundances of individual heterotrophic species were substantially different in the developing consortial biofilms. This suggests that, although similar niches are created by the cyanobacterial metabolisms, the resulting webs of autotroph-heterotroph and heterotroph-heterotroph interactions are specific to each primary producer. The relative simplicity and tractability of the Hot Lake unicyanobacterial consortia make them useful model systems for deciphering interspecies interactions and assembly principles relevant to natural microbial communities.