Microbial communities from weathered outcrops of a sulfide-rich ultramafic intrusion, and implications for mine waste management

Kathryn K. Hobart, Zhaa Zhaawaanong Greensky, Kimberly Hernandez, Joshua M. Feinberg, Jake V. Bailey, Daniel S. Jones

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The Duluth Complex (DC) contains sulfide-rich magmatic intrusions that represent one of the largest known economic deposits of copper, nickel, and platinum group elements. Previous work showed that microbial communities associated with experimentally-weathered DC waste rock and tailings were dominated by uncultivated taxa and organisms not typically associated with mine waste. However, those experiments were designed for kinetic testing and do not necessarily represent the conditions expected for long-term environmental weathering. We used 16S rRNA gene methods to characterize the microbial communities present on the surfaces of naturally-weathered and historically disturbed outcrops of DC material. Rock surfaces were dominated by diverse uncultured Ktedonobacteria, Acetobacteria, and Actinobacteria, with abundant algae and other phototrophs. These communities were distinct from microbial assemblages from experimentally-weathered DC rocks, suggesting different energy and nutrient resources in environmental samples. Sulfide mineral incubations performed with and without algae showed that photosynthetic microorganisms could have an inhibitory effect on autotrophic populations, resulting in slightly lower sulfate release and differences in dominant microorganisms. The microbial assemblages from these weathered outcrops show how communities develop during weathering of sulfide-rich DC rocks and represent baseline data that could evaluate the effectiveness of future reclamation of waste produced by large-scale mining operations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3512-3526
Number of pages15
JournalEnvironmental microbiology
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 2023

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023 The Authors. Environmental Microbiology published by Applied Microbiology International and John Wiley & Sons Ltd.

PubMed: MeSH publication types

  • Journal Article


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