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Effect of organic carbon and metal accumulation on the bacterial communities in sulphidogenic sediments

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A unique geochemical setting in Lake Cadagno, Switzerland, has led to the accumulation of insoluble metal sulphides in the sedimentary record as the result of past airborne pollution. This offers an exceptional opportunity to study the effect of these metals on the bacterial communities in sediments, and in particular to investigate further the link between metal contamination and an increase in the populations of endospore-forming bacteria observed previously in other metal-contaminated sediments. A decrease in organic carbon and total bacterial counts was correlated with an increase in the numbers of endospores in the oldest sediment samples, showing the first environmental evidence of a decrease in nutrient availability as a trigger of sporulation. Proteobacteria and Firmicutes were the two dominant bacterial phyla throughout the sediment, the former in an area with high sulphidogenic activity, and the latter in the oldest samples. Even though the dominant Firmicutes taxa were stable along the sediment core and did not vary with changes in metal contamination, the prevalence of some molecular species like Clostridium sp. was positively correlated with metal sulphide concentration. However, this cannot be generalized to all endospore-forming species. Overall, the community composition supports the hypothesis of sporulation as the main mechanism explaining the dominance of endospore formers in the deepest part of the sediment core, while metal contamination in the form of insoluble metal sulphide deposits appears not to be linked with sporulation as a mechanism of metal tolerance in this sulphidogenic ecosystem.

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We would like to thank the Alpine Biology Centre Foundation for the infrastructure and logistics support, Dr. Mauro Tonolla and Msc Francesco Danza of the Laboratory of applied microbiology of SUPSI and the Microbiology Unit of the University of Geneva for the sampling and helpful discussions. We also would like to thank all the students participating in the CUSO-2014 Summer School, which contributed to the measurements made in the water column. For the analysis of metals, we would like to thank Marylou Tercier-Waeber for granting us to the ICP-MS facilities from the Analytical Chemistry laboratory of the University of Geneva (Switzerland). We also acknowledge funding from the Swiss National Science Foundation, project 31003A_152972, for supporting this study.

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Bueche, M., Junier, P. Effect of organic carbon and metal accumulation on the bacterial communities in sulphidogenic sediments. Environ Sci Pollut Res 23, 10443–10456 (2016).

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