Applied and Environmental Microbiology
An understanding of how communities are organized is a fundamental goal of ecology but one which has historically been elusive for microbial systems. We used a bar-coded pyrosequencing approach targeting the V3 region of the bacterial small-subunit rRNA gene to address the factors that structure communities along the thermal gradients of two alkaline hot springs in the Lower Geyser Basin of Yellowstone National Park. The filtered data set included a total of nearly 34,000 sequences from 39 environmental samples. Each was assigned to one of 391 operational taxonomic units (OTUs) identified by their unique V3 sequence signatures. Although the two hot springs differed in their OTU compositions, community resemblance and diversity changed with strikingly similar dynamics along the two outflow channels. Two lines of evidence suggest that these community properties are controlled primarily by environmental temperature. First, community resemblance decayed exponentially with increasing differences in temperature between samples but was only weakly correlated with physical distance. Second, diversity decreased with increasing temperature at the same rate along both gradients but was uncorrelated with other measured environmental variables. This study also provides novel insights into the nature of the ecological interactions among important taxa in these communities. A strong negative association was observed between cyanobacteria and the Chloroflexi, which together accounted for similar to 70% of the sequences sampled. This pattern contradicts the longstanding hypothesis that coadapted lineages of these bacteria maintain tightly cooccurring distributions along these gradients as a result of a producer-consumer relationship. We propose that they instead compete for some limiting resource(s).