Microbial succession and dynamics in meromictic Mono Lake, California

Geobiology Course 2017, Geobiology Course 2018

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Scopus citations


Mono Lake is a closed-basin, hypersaline, alkaline lake located in Eastern Sierra Nevada, California, that is dominated by microbial life. This unique ecosystem offers a natural laboratory for probing microbial community responses to environmental change. In 2017, a heavy snowpack and subsequent runoff led Mono Lake to transition from annually mixed (monomictic) to indefinitely stratified (meromictic). We followed microbial succession during this limnological shift, establishing a two-year (2017–2018) water-column time series of geochemical and microbiological data. Following meromictic conditions, anoxia persisted below the chemocline and reduced compounds such as sulfide and ammonium increased in concentration from near 0 to ~400 and ~150 µM, respectively, throughout 2018. We observed significant microbial succession, with trends varying by water depth. In the epilimnion (above the chemocline), aerobic heterotrophs were displaced by phototrophic genera when a large bloom of cyanobacteria appeared in fall 2018. Bacteria in the hypolimnion (below the chemocline) had a delayed, but systematic, response reflecting colonization by sediment “seed bank” communities. Phototrophic sulfide-oxidizing bacteria appeared first in summer 2017, followed by microbes associated with anaerobic fermentation in spring 2018, and eventually sulfate-reducing taxa by fall 2018. This slow shift indicated that multi-year meromixis was required to establish a sulfate-reducing community in Mono Lake, although sulfide oxidizers thrive throughout mixing regimes. The abundant green alga Picocystis remained the dominant primary producer during the meromixis event, abundant throughout the water column including in the hypolimnion despite the absence of light and prevalence of sulfide. Our study adds to the growing literature describing microbial resistance and resilience during lake mixing events related to climatic events and environmental change.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)376-393
Number of pages18
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jul 2021


  • environmental microbiology
  • geochemistry
  • limnology
  • microbial ecology
  • microbial succession

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Environmental Science
  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • General Earth and Planetary Sciences


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