Antonie van Leeuwenhoek

, Volume 111, Issue 8, pp 1361–1374 | Cite as

Microbial community composition and trophic role along a marked salinity gradient in Laguna Puilar, Salar de Atacama, Chile

  • Cristina DoradorEmail author
  • Patrick Fink
  • Martha Hengst
  • Gonzalo Icaza
  • Alvaro S. Villalobos
  • Drina Vejar
  • Daniela Meneses
  • Vinko Zadjelovic
  • Lisa Burmann
  • Jana Moelzner
  • Chris Harrod
Original Paper


The geological, hydrological and microbiological features of the Salar de Atacama, the most extensive evaporitic sedimentary basin in the Atacama Desert of northern Chile, have been extensively studied. In contrast, relatively little attention has been paid to the composition and roles of microbial communities in hypersaline lakes which are a unique feature in the Salar. In the present study biochemical, chemical and molecular biological tools were used to determine the composition and roles of microbial communities in water, microbial mats and sediments along a marked salinity gradient in Laguna Puilar which is located in the “Los Flamencos” National Reserve. The bacterial communities at the sampling sites were dominated by members of the phyla Bacteroidetes, Chloroflexi, Cyanobacteria and Proteobacteria. Stable isotope and fatty acid analyses revealed marked variability in the composition of microbial mats at different sampling sites both horizontally (at different sites) and vertically (in the different layers). The Laguna Puilar was shown to be a microbially dominated ecosystem in which more than 60% of the fatty acids at particular sites are of bacterial origin. Our pioneering studies also suggest that the energy budgets of avian consumers (three flamingo species) and dominant invertebrates (amphipods and gastropods) use minerals as a source of energy and nutrients. Overall, the results of this study support the view that the Salar de Atacama is a heterogeneous and fragile ecosystem where small changes in environmental conditions may alter the balance of microbial communities with possible consequences at different trophic levels.


Halophiles Stable isotopes Fatty acids Microbial mats 16S rRNA gene sequencing Flamingos 



We would like to acknowledge collaborative Grant BMBF-CONICYT N° PCCI1-2043 (BMBF FKZ 01DN13015) and Fondecyt 1140179. Also we deeply acknowledge CONAF and Mr. Nelson Amado for sampling support in Laguna Puilar. We are grateful of Vilma Barrera and Irma Vila for chemical analyses and to Katja Preuss and Daniel Schäfer for help with the fatty acid analyses. Chris Harrod is supported by Nucleo Milenio INVASAL funded by Chile’s government program, Iniciativa Cientifica Milenio from Ministerio de Economia, Fomento y Turismo.

Supplementary material

10482_2018_1091_MOESM1_ESM.docx (1.4 mb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 1458 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Laboratorio de Complejidad Microbiana y Ecología Funcional, Instituto AntofagastaUniversidad de AntofagastaAntofagastaChile
  2. 2.Departamento de Biotecnología, Facultad de Ciencias del Mar y Recursos BiológicosUniversidad de AntofagastaAntofagastaChile
  3. 3.Centre for Biotechnology & Bioengineering (CeBiB)SantiagoChile
  4. 4.Workgroup Aquatic Chemical EcologyUniversity of Cologne, Cologne BiocenterCologneGermany
  5. 5.Laboratory of Molecular Ecology and Applied Microbiology, Departamento de Ciencias FarmacéuticasUniversidad Católica del NorteAntofagastaChile
  6. 6.Instituto de Ciencias Naturales Alexander von Humboldt, Facultad de Ciencias del Mar y Recursos BiológicosUniversidad de AntofagastaAntofagastaChile
  7. 7.Núcleo Milenio INVASALConcepciónChile
  8. 8.Marine Microbiology, GEOMAR HelmholtzCentre for Ocean Research KielKielGermany

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