Background: The photic zone of aquatic habitats is subjected to strong physicochemical gradients. To analyze the fine-scale variations in the marine microbiome, we collected seven samples from a single offshore location in the Mediterranean at 15 m depth intervals during a period of strong stratification, as well as two more samples during the winter when the photic water column was mixed. We were able to recover 94 new metagenome-assembled genomes (MAGs) from these metagenomes and examine the distribution of key marine microbes within the photic zone using metagenomic recruitment.
Results: Our results showed significant differences in the microbial composition of different layers within the stratified photic water column. The majority of microorganisms were confined to discreet horizontal layers of no more than 30 m (stenobathic). Only a few such as members of the SAR11 clade appeared at all depths (eurybathic). During the winter mixing period, only some groups of bloomers such as Pseudomonas were favored. Although most microbes appeared in both seasons, some groups like the SAR116 clade and some Bacteroidetes and Verrucomicrobia seemed to disappear during the mixing period. Furthermore, we found that some microbes previously considered seasonal (e.g., Archaea or Actinobacteria) were living in deeper layers within the photic zone during the stratification period. A strong depth-related specialization was detected, not only at the taxonomic level but also at the functional level, even within the different clades, for the manipulation and uptake of specific polysaccharides. Rhodopsin sequences (green or blue) also showed narrow depth distributions that correlated with the taxonomy of the microbe in which they were found but not with depth.
Conclusions: Although limited to a single location in the Mediterranean, this study has profound implications for our understanding of how marine microbial communities vary with depth within the photic zone when stratified. Our results highlight the importance of collecting samples at different depths in the water column when comparing seasonal variations and have important ramifications for global marine studies that most often take samples from only one single depth. Furthermore, our perspective and approaches (metagenomic assembly and recruitment) are broadly applicable to other metagenomic studies.
Keywords: Deep chlorophyll maximum; Mediterranean; Photic zone; Stenobathic; Stratification.