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Metabarcoding under Brine: Microbial Ecology of Five Hypersaline Lakes at Rottnest Island (WA, Australia)

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Metabarcoding under Brine: Microbial Ecology of Five Hypersaline Lakes at Rottnest Island (WA, Australia)

Posted May 27, 2022

Saline and hypersaline water bodies with salinity concentrations greater than 35 g/L are global hotspots for microbial biodiversity and play a crucial role in regulating energy flows and biogeochemical cycles in these lakes. Given their Mars-like conditions, hypersaline ecosystems are also used as models for astrobiological studies. Studies of these systems are breaking down the boundaries between disciplines (i.e. biogeochemistry, genetics, hydrology), but there is a lack of public awareness of their critical role to humans and we need to address this shortcoming. Additionally, ecosystems in hypersaline environments have microbial communities that are highly specialized to respond to these extreme conditions. However, our understanding of the taxonomic diversity and functional metabolism of microbial communities in the water column of hypersaline ecosystems remains limited, which may compromise future conservation of these unique environments.

One of the strategies to address these issues is DNA metabarcoding sequencing. DNA metabarcoding is widely used as an ecological tool in many environments and ecosystems (i.e. groundwater, marine, terrestrial and freshwater) and is gaining increasing attention as an efficient, robust and reliable biomonitoring technique. DNA metabarcoding provides a reliable and affordable tool to study the environmental dynamics of aquatic ecosystems, and its use in saline water can be informative. However, despite its potential to gain scientific insights into complex systems, its application in extreme environments such as hypersaline water is still very limited.

A research group led by Dr Mattia Saccò from Curtin University, Australia used bacterial 16S metabarcoding combined with hydrochemical analysis to study microbial patterns (diversity and function) in five hypersaline lakes located on Rottnest Island (WA). Their findings suggest that lake-driven microbial aquatic assemblages are taxonomically and functionally moderately to extremely halophilic, with TDS (total dissolved solids) and alkalinity the most influential parameters driving community patterns. Overall, their findings demonstrate that DNA metabarcoding enables a rapid but reliable ecological assessment of the high salinity aquatic microbial community in Rottnest Island.

Composition of microbial communities in water across the five lakes

image source: Water


Saccò M, White NE, Campbell M, Allard S, Humphreys WF, Pringle P, Sepanta F, Laini A, Allentoft ME. Metabarcoding under Brine: Microbial Ecology of Five Hypersaline Lakes at Rottnest Island (WA, Australia). Water. 2021; 13(14):1899.