Spatial Distribution and Molecular Diversity of Archaeal Communities in the Extreme Hypersaline Meromictic Brâncoveanu Lake (Transylvanian Basin, Romania)

<p>Dating from the Middle Miocene, the massive halite deposits lying beneath the Transylvanian Basin (Central Romania) have been valuable mineral resources quarried for millennia. Among the numerous hypersaline pit lakes that resulted from this mining, Brâncoveanu Lake is unique by its extreme salinity. Assessment of physicochemical variables, water chemistry and trophic status indicated that Brâncoveanu Lake is a permanently stratified, pH-neutral, NaCl-rich and eutrophied system. We investigated the abundance, molecular diversity and vertical distribution of archaeal community by culture-independent approaches. Additionally, the most relevant environmental parameters shaping the archaeal community composition were evaluated by statistical methods. Archaea appeared to largely outnumber Bacteria; altogether the great prevalence of Halobacteriaceae-related sequences could imply a major contribution of this group to the biogeochemical carbon turnover. The fairly distinct composition of archaeal communities reflects the lake's physicochemical stratification. Among the limnological factors, salinity and oxygen showed a significant impact on determining the composition and structure of archaeal assemblages. Furthermore, Brâncoveanu Lake might harbor novel microorganisms such as members of the recently described phylum Nanohaloarchaea. Overall, this study reported the occurrence of halophilic Archaea in a little explored hydrogeochemical system and provided a better insight into geomicrobiology of meromictic hypersaline pit lakes.</p>