Australian Hot Spring ecosystem

Natural thermal springs are produced by geothermally heated groundwater and provide opportunities for studying microbes that may represent analogues of life on ancient Earth or even other planets. In this project, we will characterise the microbial communities in a recently explored Australian hot spring ecosystem.

We aim to study the microbial communities contributing to the formation of the unique mounded travertine terraces and miniature stromatolites at Talaroo Hot Springs. Travertine, a terrestrial limestone, is formed through an interplay of chemical and biological processes. The water chemistry at the springs has been characterised, but the microbial communities have remained largely unexplored.  Therefore, we propose to:

  1. Characterise the microbial communities contributing to the creation of travertines and miniature stromatolites using DNA sequencing of the community members (metagenomics).
  2. Document the rates of travertine formation, by placing small numbered pins at several locations on the terraced travertine mound.

  3. Determine the source of the travertine associated microbes, by identifying microorganisms in the hot vents, sediments in discharge streams leading from the vent, and the Einasleigh River upstream of the spring discharge.

  4. Infer the metabolic potential of microorganisms associated with the travertine terraces, via reconstructions of genetic pathways, to understand the flow of nutrients that influences the characteristics of the hot spring water.

  5. Analyse the spatial distribution of microbes in the travertine biofilm and the biofilm morphology, via light and electron microscopy.

The proposed aims will allow us to establish a baseline of the microbial community in an effort to better understand and to protect the unique Talaroo Hot Springs ecosystem.

The unique Talaroo Hot Springs ecosystem (image courtesy

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