|Abstract or Summary
- Continental shelves located along eastern boundary currents occupy relatively small volumes of the world’s oceans, yet are responsible for a large proportion of global primary production. The Oregon coast is among these ecosystems. Recent analyses of dissolved oxygen at shallow depths in the water column has suggested increasing episodes of hypoxia and anoxia, events that are detrimental to larger macro-faunal species. Microbial communities, however, are metabolically diverse, capable of utilizing alternative electron donors and acceptors, and can withstand transient periods of low dissolved oxygen. Understanding the phylogenetic and metabolic diversity of microorganisms in these environments is important for assessing the impact hypoxic events have on local and global biogeochemistry. Several molecular ecology tools were used to answer questions about the distribution patterns and activities of microorganisms residing along the coast of Oregon in this dissertation. Ribosomal rRNA fingerprinting and sequence analyses of samples collected during 2007-2008 suggested that bacterial community structure was not substantially influenced by changes in dissolved oxygen. However, substantial depth dependent changes were observed, with samples collected in the bottom boundary layer (BBL) displaying significant differences from those collected in the surface layer. Phylogenetic analyses of bacterial rRNA genes revealed novel phylotypes associated with this area of the water column, including groups with close evolutionary relationships to putative or characterized sulfur oxidizing bacteria (SOB). Analysis of metagenomes and metatranscriptomes collected during 2009 suggested increasing abundances of chemolithoautrophic organisms and their activities in the BBL. Thaumarchaea displayed significant depth dependent increases during the summer, and were detected at maximal frequencies during periods of hypoxia, suggesting that nitrification maybe influenced by local changes in dissolved oxygen. Metagenomic analysis of samples collected from 2010 revealed substantial variability in the metabolic potential of the microbial communities from different water masses. Samples collected during the spring, prior to upwelling clustered independently of those collected during the summer, during a period of upwelling, and did not display any clear stratification. Samples collected during the summer did cluster based on depth, consistent with previous observations, and increases in the relative abundances of chemolithotrophic gene suites were observed in the BBL during stratified conditions, suggesting that the metabolic potential for these processes is a repeatable feature along the Oregon coast. Overall, these observations suggest that depth impacts microbial community diversity, metabolic potential, and transcriptional activity in shallow areas of the Northeast Pacific Ocean. The increase in lithotrophic genes and transcripts in the BBL suggests that this microbial community includes many organisms that are able to use inorganic electron donors for respiration. We speculate that the dissolved organic material in the BBL is semi-labile and not available for immediate oxidation, favoring the growth for microorganisms that are able to use alternative electron donors.