Iron Flocs and the Three Domains: Microbial Interactions in Freshwater Iron Mats
Freshwater iron mats are dynamic geochemical environments with broad ecological diversity, primarily formed by the iron-oxidizing bacteria. The community features functional groups involved in biogeochemical cycles for iron, sulfur, carbon, and nitrogen. Despite this complexity, iron mat communities provide an excellent model system for exploring microbial ecological interactions and ecological theories in situ. Syntrophies and competition between the functional groups in iron mats, how they
... n mats, how they connect cycles, and the maintenance of these communities by taxons outside bacteria (the eukaryota, archaea, and viruses) have been largely unstudied. Here, we review what is currently known about freshwater iron mat communities, the taxa that reside there, and the interactions between these organisms, and we propose ways in which future studies may uncover exciting new discoveries. For example, the archaea in these mats may play a greater role than previously thought as they are diverse and widespread in iron mats based on 16S rRNA genes and include methanogenic taxa. Studies with a holistic view of the iron mat community members focusing on their diverse interactions will expand our understanding of community functions, such as those involved in pollution removal. To begin addressing questions regarding the fundamental interactions and to identify the conditions in which they occur, more laboratory culturing techniques and coculture studies, more network and keystone species analyses, and the expansion of studies to more freshwater iron mat systems are necessary. Increasingly accessible bioinformatic, geochemical, and culturing tools now open avenues to address the questions that we pose herein.