Fungi are the principal degraders of biomass in most terrestrial ecosystems. In contrast to surface environments, deep-sea environmental gene libraries have suggested that fungi are rare and non-diverse in high-pressure marine environments. Here, we report the diversity of fungi from 11 deep-sea samples from around the world representing depths from 1500 to 4000m (146–388atm) and two shallower water column samples (250 and 500m). We sequenced 239 clones from 10 fungal-specific 18S rRNA gene libraries constructed from these samples, from which we detected only 18 fungal 18S-types in deep-sea samples. Our phylogenetic analyses show that a total of only 32 fungal 18S-types have so far been recovered from deep-sea habitats, and our results suggest that fungi, in general, are relatively rare in the deep-sea habitats we sampled. The fungal diversity detected suggests that deep-sea environments host an evolutionarily diverse array of fungi dominated by groups of distantly related yeasts, although four putative filamentous fungal 18S-types were detected. The majority of our new sequences branch close to known fungi found in surface environments. This pattern contradicts the proposal that deep-sea and hydrothermal vent habitats represent ancient ecosystems, and demonstrates a history of frequent dispersal between terrestrial and deep-sea habitats.
Keywords: life under huge barometric pressures, osmotrophy, environmental gene library, microbial diversity, SSU rDNA phylogeny