Difficulty quantifying biogeochemically significant microbes in marine sediments limits our ability to assess interspecific interactions, population turnover times, and niches of uncultured taxa. We incubated surface sediments from Cape Lookout Bight, North Carolina USA, anoxically at 21°C for 122 days. Sulfate decreased until day 68, after which methane increased, with hydrogen concentration consistent with predicted values of an electron donor exerting thermodynamic control. We measured turnover times using two relative quantification methods, quantitative PCR (qPCR) and the product of 16S gene read abundance and total cell abundance (FRAxC, for fraction of read abundance times cells), to estimate population turnover rates of uncultured clades. Most 16S rRNA reads were from deeply-branching uncultured groups and ∼ 98% of 16S rRNA genes did not abruptly shift in relative abundance when sulfate reduction gave way to methanogenesis. Uncultured Methanomicrobiales and Methanosarcinales increased at the onset of methanogenesis with population turnover times estimated from quantitative PCR (qPCR) at 9.7 ± 3.9 and 12.6 ± 4.1 days, respectively. These were consistent with FRAxC turnover times of 9.4 ± 5.8 and 9.2 ± 3.5 days, respectively. Uncultured Syntrophaceae, which are possibly fermentative syntrophs of methanogens, and uncultured Kazan-3A-21 archaea also increased at the onset of methanogenesis with FRAxC turnover times of 14.7 ± 6.9 and 10.6 ± 3.6 days. Kazan-3A-21 may therefore either perform methanogenesis or form a fermentative syntrophy with methanogens. Three genera of sulfate reducing bacteria, Desulfovibrio sp., Desulfobacter sp., and Desulfobacterium sp. increased in the first 19 days before declining rapidly during sulfate reduction. We conclude that population turnover times on the order of days can be measured robustly in organic-rich marine sediment, and the transition from sulfate-reducing to methanogenic conditions only stimulates growth in a few clades directly involved in methanogenesis, rather than the whole microbial community.
Two common quantification methods for subseafloor microorganisms are catalyzed reporter deposition fluorescence in situ hybridization (CARD-FISH) and quantitative PCR (qPCR). Using these methods, we quantified Bacteria and Archaea in Baltic Sea basin sediments (IODP Exp. 347) down to 90 mbsf, testing the following hypotheses in an inter-laboratory comparison: 1) proteinase K permeabilization of Archaeal cell walls increases CARD-FISH accuracy, and 2) qPCR varies by more than an order of magnitude between laboratories using similar protocols. CARD-FISH counts did not differ between permeabilization treatments, demonstrating that proteinase K did not increase accuracy of CARD-FISH counts. However, 91% of these counts were below the quantification limit of 1.3 × 107 cells cm−3. For qPCR, data varied between laboratories, but were largely within the same order of magnitude if the same primers were used, with 88% of samples being above the quantification limit. Copy number values were elevated by preparing a sediment slurry before DNA extraction: 3.88 ×106 to 2.34 ×109 16S rRNA gene copies cm−3 vs. 1.39 × 107 to 1.87 × 109 total cells cm−3. By qPCR, Bacteria were more abundant than Archaea, although they usually were within the same order of magnitude. Overall, qPCR is more sensitive than CARD-FISH, but both require optimization to consistently achieve both precision and accuracy.