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The deep marine subsurface is a heterogeneous environment in which the assembly of microbial communities is thought to be controlled by a combination of organic matter deposition, electron acceptor availability, and sedimentology. However, the relative importance of these factors in structuring microbial communities in marine sediments remains unclear. The South China Sea (SCS) experiences significant variability in sedimentation across the basin and features discrete changes in sedimentology as a result of episodic deposition of turbidites and volcanic ashes within lithogenic clays and siliceous or calcareous ooze deposits throughout the basin's history. Deep subsurface microbial communities were recently sampled by the International Ocean Discovery Program (IODP) at three locations in the SCS with sedimentation rates of 5, 12, and 20 cm per thousand years. Here, we used Illumina sequencing of the 16S ribosomal RNA gene to characterize deep subsurface microbial communities from distinct sediment types at these sites. Communities across all sites were dominated by several poorly characterized taxa implicated in organic matter degradation, including Atribacteria, Dehalococcoidia, and Aerophobetes. Sulfate-reducing bacteria comprised only 4% of the community across sulfate-bearing sediments from multiple cores and did not change in abundance in sediments from the methanogenic zone at the site with the lowest sedimentation rate. Microbial communities were significantly structured by sediment age and the availability of sulfate as an electron acceptor in pore waters. However, microbial communities demonstrated no partitioning based on the sediment type they inhabited. These results indicate that microbial communities in the SCS are structured by the availability of electron donors and acceptors rather than sedimentological characteristics.
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