ISME J 13(12) , 3024-3036 (Dec 2019)
Since the discovery of archaeoplankton in 1992, the euryarchaeotal Marine Group II (MGII) remains uncultured and less understood than other planktonic archaea. We characterized the seasonal dynamics of MGII populations in the southern North Sea on a genomic and microscopic level over the course of four years. We recovered 34 metagenome-assembled genomes (MAGs) of MGIIa and MGIIb that corroborated proteorhodopsin-based photoheterotrophic lifestyles. However, MGIIa and MGIIb MAG genome sizes differed considerably (~1.9 vs. ~1.4 Mbp), as did their transporter, peptidase, flagella and sulfate assimilation gene repertoires. MGIIb populations were characteristic of winter samples, whereas MGIIa accounted for up to 23% of the community at the beginning of summer. Both clades consisted of annually recurring, sequence-discrete populations with low intra-population sequence diversity. Oligotyping of filtered cell-size fractions and microscopy consistently suggested that MGII cells were predominantly free-living. Cells were coccoid and ~0.7 microm in diameter, likely resulting in grazing avoidance. Based on multiple lines of evidence, we propose distinct niche adaptations of MGIIa and MGIIb Euryarchaeota populations that are characteristic of summer and winter conditions in the coastal North Sea.