High abundances of viruses in a deep-sea hydrothermal vent system indicates viral mediated microbial mortality
Little is known about the distribution and abundance of viruses at deep-sea hydrothermal vents. Based on estimates made using epifluorescence microscopy and the dye YoPro-1, much higher viral abundances were observed at active hydrothermal vents than in the surrounding deep sea. This indicates that viral production was occurring and that viruses were a source of microbial mortality. Samples collected from three actively venting sites (Clam Bed, S&M and Salut) within the Endeavour Ridge system off the west coast of North America had viral abundances ranging from 1.45×10 5 to 9.90×10 7 ml -1, while the abundances of prokaryotes ranged from 1.30×10 5 to 4.46×10 6 ml -1. The abundances of viruses and prokaryotes in samples collected along the neutrally buoyant plume associated with the Main Endeavour Field were lower than at actively venting sites, with a mean of 5.3×10 5 prokaryotes ml -1 (s.d. 2.9×10 5, n=64) and 3.50×10 6 viruses ml -1 (s.d. 1.89×10 6, n=64), but were higher than non-plume samples (2.7×10 5 prokaryotes ml -1, s.d. 5.0×10 4, n=15 and 2.94×10 6 viruses ml -1, s.d. 1.08×10 6, n=15). Prokaryotic and viral abundances in non-hydrothermal regions were as much as 10-fold higher than found in previous studies, in which sample fixation likely resulted in underestimates. This suggests that viral infection may be a greater source of prokaryotic mortality throughout the deep sea than previously recognized. Overall, our results indicate that virus-mediated mortality of prokaryotes at these hydrothermal-vent environments is significant and may reduce energy flow to higher trophic levels.