Stratified community responses to methane and sulfate supplies in mud volcano deposits: insights from an in vitro experiment

PLoS One. 2014 Nov 13;9(11):e113004. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0113004. eCollection 2014.


Numerous studies on marine prokaryotic communities have postulated that a process of anaerobic oxidation of methane (AOM) coupled with sulfate reduction (SR) is the main methane sink in the world's oceans. AOM has also been reported in the deep biosphere. But the responses of the primary microbial players in eliciting changes in geochemical environments, specifically in methane and sulfate supplies, have yet to be fully elucidated. Marine mud volcanoes (MVs) expel a complex fluid mixture of which methane is the primary component, forming an environment in which AOM is a common phenomenon. In this context, we attempted to identify how the prokaryotic community would respond to changes in methane and sulfate intensities, which often occur in MV environments in the form of eruptions, diffusions or seepage. We applied an integrated approach, including (i) biochemical surveys of pore water originated from MV, (ii) in vitro incubation of mud breccia, and (iii) prokaryotic community structure analysis. Two distinct AOM regions were clearly detected. One is related to the sulfate methane transition zone (SMTZ) at depth of 30-55 cm below the sea floor (bsf); the second is at 165-205 cm bsf with ten times higher rates of AOM and SR. This finding contrasts with the sulfide concentrations in pore waters and supports the suggestion that potential AOM activity below the SMTZ might be an important methane sink that is largely ignored or underestimated in oceanic methane budget calculations. Moreover, the incubation conditions below the SMTZ favor the growth of methanotrophic archaeal group ANME-2 compared to ANME-1, and promote the rapid growth and high diversity of bacterial communities. These incubation conditions also promote the increase of richness in bacterial communities. Our results provide direct evidence of the mechanisms by which deep AOM processes can affect carbon cycling in the deep biosphere and global methane biochemistry.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Archaea / growth & development*
  • Bacteria / growth & development*
  • Methane / chemistry
  • Methane / metabolism*
  • Models, Biological*
  • Sulfates / chemistry
  • Sulfates / metabolism*
  • Volcanic Eruptions*
  • Water Microbiology*


  • Sulfates
  • Methane

Grant support

This work was supported by Natural Science Foundation of China (grant numbers 41102211 and 91228201), National High-Tech Program of China (grant number 2012AA092103), Bijzonder Onderzoeks Fonds of Ghent University (grant number BOF08/DOC/016, BOF09/GOA/005), European Science Foundation MicroSYSTEMS supported by Fonds voor Wetenschappelijk Onderzoek (grant number 506G.0656.05). The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.