In this study, we integrated geochemical measurements, microbial diversity surveys and physiological characterization of laboratory strains to investigate substrate-attached filamentous microbial biofilms at Tor Caldara, a shallow-water gas vent in the Tyrrhenian Sea. At this site, the venting gases are mainly composed of CO2 and H2S and the temperature at the emissions is the same as that of the surrounding water. To investigate the composition of the total and active fraction of the Tor Caldara biofilm communities, we collected established and newly formed filaments and we sequenced the 16S rRNA genes (DNA) and the 16S rRNA transcripts (cDNA). Chemoautotrophic sulfur-oxidizing members of the Gammaproteobacteria (predominantly Thiotrichales) dominate the active fraction of the established microbial filaments, while Epsilonproteobacteria (predominantly Sulfurovum spp.) are more prevalent in the young filaments. This indicates a succession of the two communities, possibly in response to age, sulfide and oxygen concentrations. Growth experiments with representative laboratory strains in sulfide gradient medium revealed that Sulfurovum riftiae (Epsilonproteobacteria) grew closer to the sulfide source than Thiomicrospirasp. (Gammaproteobacteria, Thiotrichales). Overall, our findings show that sulfur-oxidizing Epsilonproteobacteria are the dominant pioneer colonizers of the Tor Caldara biofilm communities and that Gammaproteobacteria become prevalent once the community is established. This succession pattern appears to be driven - among other factors - by the adaptation of Epsilon- and Gammaproteobacteria to different sulfide concentrations.
Pockmarks are crater-like depression on the seafloor associated with hydrocarbon ascent through muddy sediments in continental shelves around the world. In this study, we examine the diversity and distribution of benthic microbial communities at shallow-water pockmarks adjacent to the Middle Adriatic Ridge. We integrate microbial diversity data with characterization of local hydrocarbons concentrations and sediment geochemistry. Our results suggest these pockmarks are enriched in sedimentary hydrocarbons, and host a microbial community dominated by Bacteria, even in deeper sediment layers. Pockmark sediments showed higher prokaryotic abundance and biomass than surrounding sediments, potentially due to the increased availability of organic matter and higher concentrations of hydrocarbons linked to pockmark activity. Prokaryotic diversity analyses showed that the microbial communities of these shallow-water pockmarks are unique, and comprised phylotypes associated with the cycling of sulfur and nitrate compounds, as well as numerous know hydrocarbon degraders. Altogether, this study suggests that shallow-water pockmark habitats enhance the diversity of the benthic prokaryotic biosphere by providing specialized environmental niches.