Abstract

Much remains unknown about what drives microbial community structure and diversity. Highly structured environments might offer clues. For example, it may be possible to identify metabolically similar species as groups of organisms that correlate spatially with the geochemical processes they carry out. Here, we use a 16S ribosomal RNA gene survey in a lake that has chemical gradients across its depth to identify groups of spatially correlated but phylogenetically diverse organisms. Some groups had distributions across depth that aligned with the distributions of metabolic processes predicted by a biogeochemical model, suggesting that these groups performed biogeochemical functions. A single-cell genetic assay showed, however, that the groups associated with one biogeochemical process, sulfate reduction, contained only a few organisms that have the genes required to reduce sulfate. These results raise the possibility that some of these spatially correlated groups are consortia of phylogenetically diverse and metabolically different microbes that cooperate to carry out geochemical functions.


NATURE MICROBIOLOGY, VOL 1, SEPTEMBER 2016, 1-9