Kartchner Caverns is an oligotrophic subterranean environment that hosts a wide diversity of actively growing calcite speleothems (secondary mineral deposits). In a previous study, we demonstrated that bacterial communities extracted from these surfaces are quite complex and vary between formations. In the current study, we evaluated the influence of several environmental variables on the superficial bacterial community structure of 10 active formations located in close proximity to one another in a small room of Kartchner Caverns State Park, Arizona, USA. Physical (color, dimensions) and chemical (elemental profile and organic carbon concentration) properties, as well as the DGGE-based bacterial community structure of the formations were analyzed. While elemental concentration was found to vary among the formations, the differences in the community structure could not be correlated with concentrations of either organic carbon or any of the elements evaluated. In contrast, the locations of formations within a distinct region of the cave as well as the relative location of specific formations within a single room were found to have a significant influence on the bacterial community structure of the formations evaluated. Interestingly, Canonical Correspondence Analysis suggests an association between the observed drip pathways (drip lines) feeding the formations (as determined by the patterns of soda straws and small stalactites that reveal water flow patterns) and the bacterial community structure of the respective formations. The results presented here indicate that a broad range of formations fed by a diversity of drip sources must be sampled to fully characterize the community composition of bacteria present on the surfaces of calcite formations in carbonate caves.
- bacterial community structure
- carbonate cave
- drip water
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Environmental Chemistry
- Environmental Science(all)
- Earth and Planetary Sciences (miscellaneous)