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The Biogeography of Great Salt Lake Halophilic Archaea: Testing the Hypothesis of Avian Mechanical Carriers

Kemp, Bex L., Tabish, Erin M., Wolford, Adam J., Jones, Daniel L., Butler, Jaimi K., Baxter, Bonnie K.
Diversity 2018 v.10 no.4
DNA, Haloarcula, Pelecanus erythrorhynchos, biogeography, birds, crystals, cultivars, ecosystems, environmental factors, feathers, genes, genetic databases, genetic similarity, hypersalinity, microorganisms, migratory behavior, nucleotide sequences, ribosomal RNA, Great Salt Lake
Halophilic archaea inhabit hypersaline ecosystems globally, and genetically similar strains have been found in locales that are geographically isolated from one another. We sought to test the hypothesis that small salt crystals harboring halophilic archaea could be carried on bird feathers and that bird migration is a driving force of these distributions. In this study, we discovered that the American White Pelicans (AWPE) at Great Salt Lake soak in the hypersaline brine and accumulate salt crystals (halite) on their feathers. We cultured halophilic archaea from AWPE feathers and halite crystals. The microorganisms isolated from the lakeshore crystals were restricted to two genera: Halorubrum and Haloarcula, however, archaea from the feathers were strictly Haloarcula. We compared partial DNA sequence of the 16S rRNA gene from our cultivars with that of similar strains in the GenBank database. To understand the biogeography of genetically similar halophilic archaea, we studied the geographical locations of the sampling sites of the closest-matched species. An analysis of the environmental factors of each site pointed to salinity as the most important factor for selection. The geography of the sites was consistent with the location of the sub-tropical jet stream where birds typically migrate, supporting the avian dispersal hypothesis.