Meet Me in the Middle: Median Temperatures Impact Cyanobacteria and Photoautotrophy in Eruptive Yellowstone Hot Springs

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6 Scopus citations


Geographic isolation can be a main driver of microbial evolution in hot springs while temperature plays a role on local scales. For example, cyanobacteria, particularly high-temperature Synechococcus spp., have undergone ecological diversification along temperature gradients in hot spring outflow channels. While water flow, and thus temperature, is largely stable in many hot springs, flow can vary in geysing/eruptive hot springs, resulting in large temperature fluctuations (sometimes more than 40°C). However, the role of large temperature fluctuations in driving diversification of cyanobacteria in eruptive hot springs has not been explored. Here, we examined phototroph community composition and potential photoautotrophic activity in two alkaline eruptive hot springs with similar geochemistry in the Lower Geyser Basin in Yellowstone National Park, WY. We observed distinct cyanobacterial amplicon sequencing variants (ASVs) consistent with allopatry and levels of light-dependent inorganic carbon uptake rates similar to other hot springs, despite large temperature fluctuations. Our data suggest median temperatures may drive phototroph fitness in eruptive hot springs while future studies are necessary to determine the evolutionary consequences of thriving under continuously fluctuating temperatures. We propose that large temperature swings in eruptive hot springs offer unique environments to examine the role of allopatry versus physical and chemical characteristics of ecosystems in driving cyanobacterium evolution and add to the debate regarding the ecology of thermal adaptation and the potential for narrowing niche breadth with increasing temperature. IMPORTANCE Hot spring cyanobacteria have long been model systems for examining ecological diversification as well as characterizing microbial adaptation and evolution to extreme environments. These studies have reported cyanobacterial diversification in hot spring outflow channels that can be defined by distinct temperature ranges. Our study builds on these previous studies by examining cyanobacteria in geysing hot springs. Geysing hot springs result in outflow channels that experience regular and large temperature fluctuations. While community compositions are similar between geysing and nongeysing hot spring outflow channels, our data suggest median, rather than high, temperature drives the fitness of cyanobacteria in geysing hot springs. We propose that large temperature swings may result in patterns of ecological diversification that are distinct from more stable outflows.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere01450-21
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was supported by the University of Minnesota. T.L.H. was supported by NASA Exobiology award number 80NSSC20K0614.

Publisher Copyright:
Copyright © 2022 Hamilton and Havig. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International license.


  • Aerobic anoxygenic phototroph
  • Chlorobi
  • Chloroflexi
  • Cyanobacteria
  • Geyser
  • Hot springs
  • Oxygenic photosynthesis
  • PH
  • Photoassimilation
  • Phototroph
  • Synechococcus
  • Temperature

PubMed: MeSH publication types

  • Journal Article
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't


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