Last Friday Dan and I made a trip to Heart Lake in the south of YNP. Heart Lake is one of the more isolated parts of the Park and involves a nine mile hike into Witch Creek which is underneath Mt Sheridan. The valley has a wide range of neutral-alkaline springs as well as some acidic features at the top of the valley. The reasons for making this hike are multiple: the first-and-foremost reason was that I'd been told by Mircea Podar (from the National Labs) that one of the alkaline springs along Witch Creek reportedly had a high concentration of bacteria related to the candidate phylum OP1 (or Candidatus "Acetothermia"). This phylum is quite elusive and is one of the most deeply-branching (ancient) bacteria phylum known. No strains of this phylum have ever been cultivated and maintained in laboratory conditions. I am keen to learn more about this phylum as it pops up rarely in a number of our favourite springs in NZ (see here and here for examples). The second reason was that the valley contained a number of springs that had very similar physicochemical conditions to those in New Zealand. Extracting and comparing the microbial communities and their function are a primary objective of my Fulbright Fellowship. Unfortunately, the springs I had identified from the RCN database were now at different temperatures to what was previously noted in the RCN database, so I couldn't sample it. The third reason for visiting Heart Lake was that Dan had some data from his former supervisor Tina Takacs-Vesbach, that Chthonomonas-like bacteria had been detected in some of the features in the valley. Unfortunately, we ran out of time to look for these features and flagged it - In retrospect, this was a good idea as it was a long walk out getting us to the truck by 6:30pm. Luckily, we were able to grab a couple of (possible) OP1 samples along with a couple of other interesting samples for Dan to look at as well. It was a great day.
A couple of side notes:
1. We rented a economical car to get to and from the park and instead received a 5.2L RAM Truck. It even had 120AC V power outlets. I now know what it is like to drive a tank.
2. We passed Isa Lake on the drive in/out. Isa Lake literally sit on the American continental divide and has two outlets; one going east (to the Missouri then the Mississippi Rivers and then out to the Gulf of Mexico) and one going west (to the Snake River and out to the Pacific). So you can't walk the continental divide and keep your feet dry!
PS thanks (really) to everyone whom sent in the newspaper report of the man mauled by the same Grizzly Bear twice in one day,... much appreciated, especially as I walked past Mt Sheridan (renown for its bears!).
FYI: I'm pretty excited about tomorrow. Dan, Melody and I are going to Obsidian Pool in the Mud Volcano district of the YNP. For those of you that don't know about Obsidian Pool, it is the site where (arguably) the modern era of microbial ecology really started in earnest. In the mid-1990's, Phil Hugenholtz, Norman Pace and colleagues extracted DNA from Obsidian Pool and detected 11 new candidate bacterial phyla (OP1-OP11) and an additional candidate archaeal phyla (Korarchaeaota) (see references below), effectively doubling the number of microbial phyla at that point of time. This was done without needing to cultivate the cells in the lab and was the precursor to all the molecular work in microbial ecology being done today. And yes, the OP1 mentioned in the previous paragraph is one and the same phylum as the one originally discovered in Obsidian Pool.
Barns et al., 1994. Remarkable archaeal diversity detected in a Yellowstone National Park hotspring environment. Proc Nat Acad Sci USA 91(5), 1609-1613.
Hugenholtz, et al., 1998.Novel division level bacterial diversity in a Yellowstone hot spring. J Bacteriol 180(2), 366-376.