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Bacterial Community Structure Along Moisture Gradients in the Parafluvial Sediments of Two Ephemeral Desert Streams

Lydia H. Zeglin, Clifford N. Dahm, John E. Barrett, Michael N. Gooseff, Shannon K. Fitpatrick and Cristina D. Takacs-Vesbach
Microbial Ecology
Vol. 61, No. 3 (April 2011), pp. 543-556
Published by: Springer
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/41489077
Page Count: 14
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Bacterial Community Structure Along Moisture Gradients in the Parafluvial Sediments of Two Ephemeral Desert Streams
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Abstract

Microorganisms inhabiting stream sediments mediate biogeochemical processes of importance to both aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems. In deserts, the lateral margins of ephemeral stream channels (parafluvial sediments) are dried and rewetted, creating periodically wet conditions that typically enhance microbial activity. However, the influence of water content on microbial community composition and diversity in desert stream sediments is unclear. We sampled stream margins along gradients of wet to dry sediments, measuring geochemistry and bacterial 16S rRNA gene composition, at streams in both a cold (McMurdo Dry Valleys, Antarctica) and hot (Chihuahuan Desert, New Mexico, USA) desert. Across the gradients, sediment water content spanned a wide range (1.6-37.9% w/w), and conductivity was highly variable (12.3-1,380 μS cm⁻²). Bacterial diversity (at 97% sequence similarity) was high and variable, but did not differ significantly between the hot and cold desert and was not correlated with sediment water content. Instead, conductivity was most strongly related to diversity. Water content was strongly related to bacterial 16S rRNA gene community composition, though samples were distributed in wet and dry clusters rather than as assemblages shifting along a gradient. Phylogenetic analyses showed that many taxa from wet sediments at the hot and cold desert site were related to, respectively, halotolerant Gammaproteobacteria, and one family within the Sphingobacteriales (Bacteroidetes), while dry sediments at both sites contained a high proportion of taxa related to the Acidobacteria. These results suggest that bacterial diversity and composition in desert stream sediments is more strongly affected by hydrology and conductivity than temperature.

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