Archaea are ubiquitous in terrestrial and marine environments and play an important role in biogeochemical cycles. Although air acts as the primary medium for their dispersal among different habitats, their diversity and abundance is not well characterized. The main reason for this lack of insight is that archaea are difficult to culture, seem to be low in number in the atmosphere, and have so far been difficult to detect even with molecular genetic approaches. However, to better understand the transport, residence time, and living conditions of microorganisms in the atmosphere as well as their effects on the atmosphere and vice versa, it is essential to study all groups of bioaerosols. Here we present an in-depth analysis of airborne archaea based on Illumina sequencing of 16S rRNA genes from atmospheric coarse and fine particulate matter samples and show seasonal dynamics and discuss anthropogenic influences on the diversity, composition, and abundance of airborne archaea.
The relative proportions of archaea to bacteria, the differences of the community composition in fine and coarse particulate matter, and the high abundance in coarse matter of one typical soil related family, the Nitrososphaeraceae, point to local phyllosphere and soil habitats as primary emission sources of airborne archaea.
We found comparable seasonal dynamics for the dominating Euryarchaeota classes and Crenarchaeota orders peaking in summer and fall. In contrast, the omnipresent Cenarchaeales and the Thermoplasmata occur only throughout summer and fall. We also gained novel insights into archaeal composition in fine particulate matter (< 3 mu m), with Cenarchaeaceae, Nitrososphaeraceae, Methanosarcinales, Thermoplasmata, and the genus Nitrosopumilus as the dominating taxa. The seasonal dynamics of methanogenic Euryarchaeota point to anthropogenic activities, such as fertilization of agricultural fields with biogas substrates or manure, as sources of airborne archaea. This study gains a deeper insight into the abundance and composition of archaea in the atmosphere, especially within the fine particle mode, which adds to a better understanding of the overall atmospheric microbiome.