Happy holidays from Lake Alchichica!
In addition to holding the title for deepest natural lake in Mexico, Lake Alchichica can also claim some other unique titles. It’s the largest of the lakes in Mexico’s crater-made Oriental Basin , for example, and also boasts the extremely high pH of 8.7-10.0.
The lake also has a remarkable amount of stromatolites, which are kind of stalagmites except they are made by microorganisms and they look like they are from another planet.
The authors of “Prokaryotic and Eukaryotic Community Structure in Field and Cultured Microbialites from the Alkaline Lake Alchichica (Mexico) ” investigated these stromatolites, looking specifically at why they tend to crop up in highly alkaline environments.
Also, please permit me a moment of holiday spirit here: doesn’t the schematic sort of look like half of an outer-space Christmas tree?
Here is what they found:
The geomicrobiology of crater lake microbialites remains largely unknown despite their evolutionary interest due to their resemblance to some Archaean analogs in the dominance of in situ carbonate precipitation over accretion. Here, we studied the diversity of archaea, bacteria and protists in microbialites of the alkaline Lake Alchichica from both field samples collected along a depth gradient (0–14 m depth) and long-term-maintained laboratory aquaria. Using small subunit (SSU) rRNA gene libraries and fingerprinting methods, we detected a wide diversity of bacteria and protists contrasting with a minor fraction of archaea. Oxygenic photosynthesizers were dominated by cyanobacteria, green algae and diatoms.
Cyanobacterial diversity varied with depth, Oscillatoriales dominating shallow and intermediate microbialites and Pleurocapsales the deepest samples. The early-branching Gloeobacterales represented significant proportions in aquaria microbialites. Anoxygenic photosynthesizers were also diverse, comprising members of Alphaproteobacteria and Chloroflexi. Although photosynthetic microorganisms dominated in biomass, heterotrophic lineages were more diverse. We detected members of up to 21 bacterial phyla or candidate divisions, including lineages possibly involved in microbialite formation, such as sulfate-reducing Deltaproteobacteria but also Firmicutes and very diverse taxa likely able to degrade complex polymeric substances, such as Planctomycetales, Bacteroidetes and Verrucomicrobia.
Heterotrophic eukaryotes were dominated by Fungi (including members of the basal Rozellida or Cryptomycota), Choanoflagellida, Nucleariida, Amoebozoa, Alveolata and Stramenopiles. The diversity and relative abundance of many eukaryotic lineages suggest an unforeseen role for protists in microbialite ecology. Many lineages from lake microbialites were successfully maintained in aquaria. Interestingly, the diversity detected in aquarium microbialites was higher than in field samples, possibly due to more stable and favorable laboratory conditions. The maintenance of highly diverse natural microbialites in laboratory aquaria holds promise to study the role of different metabolisms in the formation of these structures under controlled conditions.