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Microbial communities across a hillslope-riparian transect shaped by proximity to the stream, groundwater table, and weathered bedrock

By Adi Lavy, David Geller McGrath, Paula B. Matheus Carnevali, Jiamin Wan, Wenming Dong, Tetsu Tokunaga, Brian C Thomas, Kenneth H. Williams, Susan Hubbard, Jillian F Banfield

Posted 21 Sep 2018
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/423368 (published DOI: 10.1002/ece3.5254)

Watersheds are important suppliers of freshwater for human societies. Within mountainous watersheds, microbial communities impact water chemistry and element fluxes as water from precipitation events discharges through soils and underlying weathered rock, yet there is limited information regarding the structure and function of these communities. Within the East River, CO watershed, we conducted a depth-resolved, hillslope to riparian zone transect study to identify factors that control how microorganisms are distributed and their functions. Metagenomic and geochemical analyses indicate that distance from the East River and proximity to groundwater and underlying weathered shale strongly impact microbial community structure and metabolic potential. Riparian zone microbial communities are compositionally distinct from all hillslope communities. Bacteria from phyla lacking isolated representatives consistently increase in abundance with increasing depth, but only in the riparian zone saturated sediments did we find Candidate Phyla Radiation bacteria. Riparian zone microbial communities are functionally differentiated from hillslope communities based on their capacities for carbon and nitrogen fixation and sulfate reduction. Selenium reduction is prominent at depth in weathered shale and saturated riparian zone sediments. We anticipate that the drivers of community composition and metabolic potential identified throughout the studied transect will predict patterns across the larger watershed hillslope system.

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