Hypersaline intertidal zones are highly dynamic ecosystems that are exposed to multiple extreme environmental conditions including rapidly and frequently changing parameters (water, nutrients, temperature) as well as highly elevated salinity levels often caused by high temperatures and evaporation rates. Microbial mats in most extreme settings, as found at the coastline of the subtropical-arid Arabian Peninsula, have been relatively less studied compared to their counterparts around the world. We report, here, for the first time on the diversity of the bacterial and archaeal communities of marine microbial mats along an intertidal transect in a wide salt flat with strongly increased salinity employing Illumina MiSeq technology for amplicon sequencing of 16S rRNA gene fragments. Microbial communities were dominated by typical halotolerant to halophilic microorganisms, with clear shifts in community composition, richness, and diversity along the transect. Highly adapted specialists (e.g., Euhalothece, Salinibacter, Nanohaloarchaeota) were mainly found at the most extreme, upper tidal sites and less specialized organisms with wide tolerance ranges (e.g., Lyngbya, Rhodovibrio, Salisaeta, Halobacteria) in intermediate sites of the transect. The dominating taxa in the lower tidal sites were typical members of well-stabilized mats (e.g., Coleofasciculus, Anaerolineaceae, Thaumarchaeota). Up to 40% of the archaeal sequences per sample represented so far unknown phyla. In conclusion, the bacterial richness and diversity increased from upper towards lower tidal sites in line with increasing mat stabilization and functional diversity, opposed to that of cyanobacteria only and archaea, which showed their highest richness and diversity in upper tidal samples.
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