Microbial community structure across the tree of life in the extreme Río Tinto. Academic Article uri icon


  • Understanding biotic versus abiotic forces that shape community structure is a fundamental aim of microbial ecology. The acidic and heavy metal extreme Río Tinto (RT) in southwestern Spain provides a rare opportunity to conduct an ecosystem-wide biodiversity inventory at the level of all three domains of life, because diversity there is low and almost exclusively microbial. Despite improvements in high-throughput DNA sequencing, environmental biodiversity studies that use molecular metrics and consider entire ecosystems are rare. These studies can be prohibitively expensive if domains are considered separately, and differences in copy number of eukaryotic ribosomal RNA genes can bias estimates of relative abundances of phylotypes recovered. In this study we have overcome these barriers (1) by targeting all three domains in a single polymerase chain reaction amplification and (2) by using a replicated sampling design that allows for incidence-based methods to extract measures of richness and carry out downstream analyses that address community structuring effects. Our work showed that combined bacterial and archaeal richness is an order of magnitude higher than eukaryotic richness. We also found that eukaryotic richness was highest at the most extreme sites, whereas combined bacterial and archaeal richness was highest at less extreme sites. Quantitative community phylogenetics showed abiotic forces to be primarily responsible for shaping the RT community structure. Canonical correspondence analysis revealed co-occurrence of obligate symbionts and their putative hosts that may contribute to biotic forces shaping community structure and may further provide a possible mechanism for persistence of certain low-abundance bacteria encountered in the RT.

publication date

  • January 2011