The hydrothermal sediments of Guaymas Basin, an active spreading center in the Gulf of California (Mexico), are rich in porewater methane, short-chain alkanes, sulfate and sulfide, and provide a model system to explore habitat preferences of microorganisms, including sulfate-dependent, methane- and short chain alkane-oxidizing microbial communities. In this study, hot sediments (above 60°C) covered with sulfur-oxidizing microbial mats surrounding a hydrothermal mound (termed “Mat Mound”) were characterized by porewater geochemistry of methane, C2–C6 short-chain alkanes, sulfate, sulfide, sulfate reduction rate measurements, in situ temperature gradients, bacterial and archaeal 16S rRNA gene clone libraries and V6 tag pyrosequencing. The most abundantly detected groups in the Mat mound sediments include anaerobic methane-oxidizing archaea of the ANME-1 lineage and its sister clade ANME-1Guaymas, the uncultured bacterial groups SEEP-SRB2 within the Deltaproteobacteria and the separately branching HotSeep-1 Group; these uncultured bacteria are candidates for sulfate-reducing alkane oxidation and for sulfate-reducing syntrophy with ANME archaea. The archaeal dataset indicates distinct habitat preferences for ANME-1, ANME-1-Guaymas, and ANME-2 archaea in Guaymas Basin hydrothermal sediments. The bacterial groups SEEP-SRB2 and HotSeep-1 co-occur with ANME-1 and ANME-1Guaymas in hydrothermally active sediments underneath microbial mats in Guaymas Basin. We propose the working hypothesis that this mixed bacterial and archaeal community catalyzes the oxidation of both methane and short-chain alkanes, and constitutes a microbial community signature that is characteristic for hydrothermal and/or cold seep sediments containing both substrates.
The hydrothermal mats, mounds, and chimneys of the southern Guaymas Basin are the surface expression of complex subsurface hydrothermal circulation patterns. In this overview, we document the most frequently visited features of this hydrothermal area with photographs, temperature measurements, and selected geochemical data; many of these distinct habitats await characterization of their microbial communities and activities. Microprofiler deployments on microbial mats and hydrothermal sediments show their steep geochemical and thermal gradients at millimeter-scale vertical resolution. Mapping these hydrothermal features and sampling locations within the southern Guaymas Basin suggest linkages to underlying shallow sills and heat flow gradients. Recognizing the inherent spatial limitations of much current Guaymas Basin sampling calls for comprehensive surveys of the wider spreading region.
Extreme thermal gradients and compressed metabolic zones limit the depth range of microbial colonization in hydrothermally active sediments at Guaymas Basin. We investigated the physicochemical characteristics of this ecosystem and their influence on microbial community structure. Temperature‐related trends of δ13C values of methane and dissolved inorganic carbon from 36 sediment cores suggest in situ thermal limits for microbial anaerobic methane oxidation and organic carbon re‐mineralization near 80°C and 100°C respectively. Temperature logging probes deposited in hydrothermal sediments for 8 days demonstrate substantial thermal fluctuations of up to 25°C. Putative anaerobic methanotroph (ANME) populations dominate the archaeal community, transitioning from ANME‐1 archaea in warm surficial sediments towards ANME‐1 Guaymas archaea as temperatures increase downcore. Since ANME archaea performing anaerobic oxidation of methane double on longer time scales (months) compared with relatively rapid in situ temperature fluctuations (hours to days), we conclude that ANME archaea possess a high tolerance for short‐term shifts in the thermal regime.