A legacy of coal mining in the Appalachians has provided a unique opportunity to study the ecological niches of iron-oxidizing microorganisms. Mine-impacted, anoxic groundwater with high dissolved-metal concentrations emerges at springs and seeps associated with iron oxide mounds and deposits. These deposits are colonized by iron-oxidizing microorganisms that in some cases efficiently remove most of the dissolved iron at low pH, making subsequent treatment of the polluted stream water less expensive. We used full-cycle rRNA methods to describe the composition of sediment communities at two geochemically similar acidic discharges, Upper and Lower Red Eyes in Somerset County, PA, USA. The dominant microorganisms at both discharges were acidophilic Gallionella-like organisms, "Ferrovum" spp., and Acidithiobacillus spp. Archaea and Leptospirillum spp. accounted for less than 2% of cells. The distribution of microorganisms at the two sites could be best explained by a combination of iron(II) concentration and pH. Populations of the Gallionella-like organisms were restricted to locations with pH > 3 and iron( II) concentration of > 4 mM, while Acidithiobacillus spp. were restricted to pH < 3 and iron(II) concentration of < 4 mM. Ferrovum spp. were present at low levels in most samples but dominated sediment communities at pH < 3 and iron(II) concentration of > 4 mM. Our findings offer a predictive framework that could prove useful for describing the distribution of microorganisms in acid mine drainage, based on readily accessible geochemical parameters.
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© 2015, American Society for Microbiology.
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