Microbial Distribution in a Hydrothermal Plume of the Southwest Indian Ridge

Hydrothermal plumes are widely distributed throughout the global spreading ridges, yet few of them are microbiologically explored. The ultraslow-spreading ridges, recently recognized as a unique, new class of mid-ocean-ridge system, have provided surprises and new insights in hydrothermal system research. A suite of water column samples including both hydrothermal plume samples and ambient seawater were collected at different depths from the ultraslow-spreading Southwest Indian Ridge (SWIR) in 2010. We use molecular approaches such as clone libraries, denaturing gradient gel electrophoresis (DGGE) and quantitative PCR to determine microbial community compositions and their spatial variability within the hydrothermal plume and seawater. Phylogenetic analysis showed that plume samples were mainly dominated by members of α-Proteobacteria and γ-Proteobacteria and members of marine group I group within the Crenarchaeota. Within the hydrothermal plume, archaeal populations were spatially homogeneous, while bacterial compositions were heterogeneous and remarkably distinct at different depths. Moreover, several lineages, closely related to known Mn(II) oxidizers were found to be abundant and even predominant within the plume bacterial communities. DGGE band patterns showed that there was no significant difference in microbial compositions between the samples of hydrothermal plume and ambient seawater. Taken together, we inferred that microbial communities in the SWIR hydrothermal plumes were sourced from ambient seawater rather than from seafloor vent-derived niches. This is the first report on the characteristics of microbial community structures in hydrothermal plume and ambient seawater in the Southwest Indian Ridge.