The unique chemistry of Eastern Mediterranean water masses selects for distinct microbial communities by depth

Stephen M Techtmann (Corresponding Author), Julian L Fortney, Kati A Ayers, Dominique C Joyner, Thomas D Linley, Susan M Pfiffner, Terry C Hazen

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The waters of the Eastern Mediterranean are characterized by unique physical and chemical properties within separate water masses occupying different depths. Distinct water masses are present throughout the oceans, which drive thermohaline circulation. These water masses may contain specific microbial assemblages. The goal of this study was to examine the effect of physical and geological phenomena on the microbial community of the Eastern Mediterranean water column. Chemical measurements were combined with phospholipid fatty acid (PLFA) analysis and high-throughput 16S rRNA sequencing to characterize the microbial community in the water column at five sites. We demonstrate that the chemistry and microbial community of the water column were stratified into three distinct water masses. The salinity and nutrient concentrations vary between these water masses. Nutrient concentrations increased with depth, and salinity was highest in the intermediate water mass. Our PLFA analysis indicated different lipid classes were abundant in each water mass, suggesting that distinct groups of microbes inhabit these water masses. 16S rRNA gene sequencing confirmed the presence of distinct microbial communities in each water mass. Taxa involved in autotrophic nitrogen cycling were enriched in the intermediate water mass suggesting that microbes in this water mass may be important to the nitrogen cycle of the Eastern Mediterranean. The Eastern Mediterranean also contains numerous active hydrocarbon seeps. We sampled above the North Alex Mud Volcano, in order to test the effect of these geological features on the microbial community in the adjacent water column. The community in the waters overlaying the mud volcano was distinct from other communities collected at similar depths and was enriched in known hydrocarbon degrading taxa. Our results demonstrate that physical phenomena such stratification as well as geological phenomena such as mud volcanoes strongly affect microbial community structure in the Eastern Mediterranean water column.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0120605
Number of pages22
JournalPloS ONE
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 25 Mar 2015


  • salinity
  • water column
  • volcano
  • mud
  • lipids
  • analysis of variance
  • bacteria
  • hydrocarbon


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