Microbial diversity of the Namib Desert salt pans
Salt pans are a characteristic feature of many dry deserts. The microbial communities inhabiting salt pans are thought to be particularly complex and are generally dominated by halophilic microorganisms. Although saline pools are frequently found within the hyper-arid Namib Desert, the microbial communities of these saline sites have been scarcely investigated. The aim of the present study was to characterise the archaeal, bacterial and cyanobacterial diversity inhabiting these extreme saline pools using three culture independent molecular techniques (DGGE, T-RFLP and 16S rRNA clone libraries). The physiochemical results, mainly the conductivity readings recorded from the sampling sites, indicated that the Gobabeb (103.0mS/cm) region was less saline than the two Swakopmund [(Sps01) (150.0mS/cm) and Sps02 (180.0mS/cm)] sites. Results obtained from DGGE and T-RFLP data were in agreement for both bacterial and cyanobacterial analysis indicating that the Gobabeb site was more diverse than the two Swakopmund sites (Sps01 and Sps02). In comparison, the archaeal community profiles for DGGE and T-RFLP analysis were in agreement illustrating that the archaeal community were more abundant in the two extreme Swakopmund saline sites. Phylogenetic data obtained from 16S rRNA gene clone libraries identified halophilic phylotypes (Rhodothermaceae, Idiomarinaceae Puniceicoccaceae and Cyanobacteria/Chloroplast, Family VII) normally associated with salt rich sites. In addition, a large number of unclassified taxa were identified. To conclude, the study highlighted the presence of a rich microbial diversity present within the salt pans of the Namib Desert and establishes a platform for future investigations.