Microbial Iron Oxidation in the Arctic Tundra and Its Implications for Biogeochemical Cycling

Printer-friendly version
TitleMicrobial Iron Oxidation in the Arctic Tundra and Its Implications for Biogeochemical Cycling
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2015
AuthorsEmerson, D, Scott, JJ, Beneš, J, Bowden, WB
Secondary AuthorsLöffler, FE
JournalApplied and Environmental Microbiology
Date Publisheddec
ISSN0099-2240, 1098-5336

ABSTRACT The role that neutrophilic iron-oxidizing bacteria play in the Arctic tundra is unknown. This study surveyed chemosynthetic iron-oxidizing communities at the North Slope of Alaska near Toolik Field Station (TFS) at Toolik Lake (lat 68.63, long −149.60). Microbial iron mats were common in submerged habitats with stationary or slowly flowing water, and their greatest areal extent is in coating plant stems and sediments in wet sedge meadows. Some Fe-oxidizing bacteria (FeOB) produce easily recognized sheath or stalk morphotypes that were present and dominant in all the mats we observed. The cool water temperatures (9 to 11°C) and reduced pH (5.0 to 6.6) at all sites kinetically favor microbial iron oxidation. A microbial survey of five sites based on 16S rRNA genes found a predominance of Proteobacteria , with Betaproteobacteria and members of the family Comamonadaceae being the most prevalent operational taxonomic units (OTUs). In relative abundance, clades of lithotrophic FeOB composed 5 to 10% of the communities. OTUs related to cyanobacteria and chloroplasts accounted for 3 to 25% of the communities. Oxygen profiles showed evidence for oxygenic photosynthesis at the surface of some mats, indicating the coexistence of photosynthetic and FeOB populations. The relative abundance of OTUs belonging to putative Fe-reducing bacteria (FeRB) averaged around 11% in the sampled iron mats. Mats incubated anaerobically with 10 mM acetate rapidly initiated Fe reduction, indicating that active iron cycling is likely. The prevalence of iron mats on the tundra might impact the carbon cycle through lithoautotrophic chemosynthesis, anaerobic respiration of organic carbon coupled to iron reduction, and the suppression of methanogenesis, and it potentially influences phosphorus dynamics through the adsorption of phosphorus to iron oxides.