DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2023.2653 ISSN: 0962-8452

Newly identified nematodes from the Great Salt Lake are associated with microbialites and specially adapted to hypersaline conditions

Julie Jung, Tobias Loschko, Shelley Reich, Maxim Rassoul-Agha, Michael S. Werner
  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences
  • General Environmental Science
  • General Immunology and Microbiology
  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • General Medicine

Extreme environments enable the study of simplified food-webs and serve as models for evolutionary bottlenecks and early Earth ecology. We investigated the biodiversity of invertebrate meiofauna in the benthic zone of the Great Salt Lake (GSL), Utah, USA, one of the most hypersaline lake systems in the world. The hypersaline bays within the GSL are currently thought to support only two multicellular animals: brine fly larvae and brine shrimp. Here, we report the presence, habitat, and microbial interactions of novel free-living nematodes. Nematode diversity drops dramatically along a salinity gradient from a freshwater river into the south arm of the lake. In Gilbert Bay, nematodes primarily inhabit reef-like organosedimentary structures built by bacteria called microbialites. These structures likely provide a protective barrier to UV and aridity, and bacterial associations within them may support life in hypersaline environments. Notably, sampling from Owens Lake, another terminal lake in the Great Basin that lacks microbialites, did not recover nematodes from similar salinities. Phylogenetic divergence suggests that GSL nematodes represent previously undescribed members of the family Monhysteridae—one of the dominant fauna of the abyssal zone and deep-sea hydrothermal vents. These findings update our understanding of halophile ecosystems and the habitable limit of animals.

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