Temperature and elemental sulfur shape microbial communities in two extremely acidic aquatic volcanic environments

Extremophiles. 2021 Jan;25(1):85-99. doi: 10.1007/s00792-020-01213-w. Epub 2021 Jan 8.


Aquatic environments of volcanic origin provide an exceptional opportunity to study the adaptations of microorganisms to early planet life conditions. Here, we characterized the prokaryotic communities and physicochemical properties of seepage sites at the bottom of the Poas Volcano crater and the Agrio River, two geologically related extremely acidic environments located in Costa Rica. Both locations hold a low pH (1.79-2.20) and have high sulfate and iron concentrations (Fe = 47-206 mg/L, SO42- = 1170-2460 mg/L), but significant differences in their temperature (90.0-95.0 ºC in the seepages at Poas Volcano, 19.1-26.6 ºC in Agrio River) and in the elemental sulfur content. Based on the analysis of 16S rRNA gene sequences, we determined that Sulfobacillus spp. represented more than half of the sequences in Poas Volcano seepage sites, while Agrio River was dominated by Leptospirillum and members of the archaeal order Thermoplasmatales. Both environments share some chemical characteristics and part of their microbiota, however, the temperature and the reduced sulfur are likely the main distinguishing features, ultimately shaping their microbial communities. Our data suggest that in the Poas Volcano-Agrio River system there is a common metabolism but with specialization of species that adapt to the physicochemical conditions of each environment.

Keywords: Agrio River; Costa Rica; Leptospirillum; Poas Volcano; Sulfobacillus; Thermoplasmatales.

MeSH terms

  • Acids
  • Archaea / classification
  • Bacteria / classification
  • Costa Rica
  • Hot Temperature*
  • Hydrogen-Ion Concentration
  • Microbiota*
  • Phylogeny*
  • RNA, Ribosomal, 16S / genetics
  • Rivers
  • Sulfur*
  • Volcanic Eruptions


  • Acids
  • RNA, Ribosomal, 16S
  • Sulfur