Environ Microbiol 22(1) , 433-446 (Jan 2020)
The Laurentian Great Lakes are a vast, interconnected freshwater system spanning strong physicochemical gradients, thus constituting a powerful natural laboratory for addressing fundamental questions about microbial ecology and evolution. We present a comparative analysis of pelagic microbial communities across all five Laurentian Great Lakes, focusing on Bacterial and Archaeal picoplankton characterized via 16S rRNA amplicon sequencing. We collected samples throughout the water column from the major basins of each lake in spring and summer over 2 years. Two oligotypes, classified as LD12 (Alphaproteobacteria) and acI-B1 (Actinobacteria), were among the most abundant in every sample. At the same time, microbial communities showed distinct patterns with depth during summer stratification. Deep hypolimnion samples were frequently dominated by a Chloroflexi oligotype that reached up to 19% relative abundance. Stratified surface communities differed between the colder, less productive upper lakes (Superior, Michigan, Huron) and warmer, more productive lower lakes (Erie, Ontario), in part due to an Actinobacteria oligotype (acI-C2) that averaged 7.7% of sequences in the lower lakes but <0.2% in the upper lakes. Together, our findings suggest that both hydrologic connectivity and local selective pressures shape microbial communities in the Great Lakes and establish a framework for future investigations.