Lake Baikal is the deepest (~1.6 km) and most voluminous freshwater reservoir on Earth. Compared to plankton, its benthos remains poorly explored. Here, we ask whether latitude and/or depth determine benthic microbial community structure and how Baikal communities compare to those of other freshwater, brackish and marine sediments. To answer, we collected sediment upper layers (0-1 cm) across a ~600 km North-South transect covering the three basins of the lake and from littoral to bathybenthic depths (0.5-1450 m). Analysis of 16S and 18S rRNA gene amplicon sequences revealed communities with high richness and evenness where rare operational taxonomic units (OTUs) collectively dominated. Archaea represented up to 25% or prokaryotic sequences. Baikal sediments harbored typically marine eukaryotic and prokaryotic OTUs recently identified in some lakes (diplonemids, Bolidophyceae, Mamiellales, SAR202, marine-like Synechococcus, Pelagibacterales) but also SAR324, Syndiniales and Radiolaria. We hypothesize that, beyond the salinity barrier, adaptation to oligotrophy explains the presence of these otherwise typically marine lineages. Baikal core benthic communities were relatively stable across sites and seemed not determined by depth or latitude. Comparative analyses with other freshwater, brackish and marine prokaryotic sediment communities confirmed the distinctness of Baikal benthos, which include elements of similarity to marine and hydrothermally influenced systems.
© 2021. The Author(s), under exclusive licence to International Society for Microbial Ecology.