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Relative abundances of methane‐ and sulphur‐oxidising symbionts in the gills of a cold seep mussel and link to their potential energy sources

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Bathymodiolus mussels are key species in many deep‐sea chemosynthetic ecosystems. They often harbour two types of endosymbiotic bacteria in their gills, sulphur‐ and methane oxidisers. These bacteria take up sulphide and methane from the environment and provide energy to their hosts, supporting some of the most prolific ecosystems in the sea. In this study, we tested whether symbiont relative abundances in Bathymodiolus gills reflect variations in the highly spatially dynamic chemical environment of cold seep mussels. Samples of Bathymodiolus aff. boomerang were obtained from two cold seeps of the deep Gulf of Guinea, REGAB (5°47.86S, 9°42.69E, 3170 m depth) and DIAPIR (6°41.58S, 10°20.94E, 2700 m depth). Relative abundances of both symbiont types were measured by means of 3D fluorescence in situ hybridisation and image analysis and compared considering the local sulphide and methane concentrations and fluxes assessed via benthic chamber incubations. Specimens inhabiting areas with highest methane content displayed higher relative abundances of methane oxidisers. The bacterial abundances correlated also with carbon stable isotope signatures in the mussel tissue, suggesting a higher contribution of methane‐derived carbon to the biomass of mussels harbouring higher densities of methane‐oxidising symbionts. A dynamic adaptation of abundances of methanotrophs and thiotrophs in the gill could be a key factor optimising the energy yield for the symbiotic system and could explain the success of dual symbiotic mussels at many cold seeps and hydrothermal vents of the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico.

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Max Planck Institute for Marine Microbiology, Bremen, Germany

Publication date: 2011-11-01

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