Bacterial diversity and biogeochemistry of different chemosynthetic habitats of the REGAB cold seep (West African margin, 3160 m water depth)
The giant pockmark REGAB (West African margin, 3160 m water depth) is an active methane-emitting cold seep ecosystem, where the energy derived from microbially mediated oxidation of methane supports high biomass and diversity of chemosynthetic communities. Bare sediments interspersed with heterogeneous chemosynthetic assemblages of mytilid mussels, vesicomyid clams and siboglinid tubeworms form a complex seep ecosystem. To better understand if benthic bacterial communities reflect the patchy distribution of chemosynthetic fauna, all major chemosynthetic habitats at REGAB were investigated using an interdisciplinary approach combining pore water geochemistry, in situ quantification of fluxes and consumption of methane, as well as bacterial community fingerprinting. This study revealed that sediments populated by different fauna assemblages show distinct biogeochemical activities and are associated with distinct sediment bacterial communities. The methane consumption rates and methane effluxes ranged over one to two orders of magnitude across habitats, and reached highest values at the mussel habitat, which hosted a different bacterial community compared to the other habitats. Clam assemblages had a profound impact on the sediment geochemistry, but less so on the bacterial community structure. Moreover, all clam assemblages at REGAB were restricted to sediments characterized by complete methane consumption in the seafloor, and intermediate biogeochemical activity. Overall, variations in the sediment geochemistry were reflected in the distribution of both fauna and microbial communities; and were mostly determined by methane flux.