Rimicaris exoculata dominates the megafauna of several Mid-Atlantic Ridge hydrothermal sites. Its gut is full of sulphides and iron-oxide particles and harbours microbial communities. Although a trophic symbiosis has been suggested, their role remains unclear. In vivo starvation experiments in pressurized vessels were performed on shrimps from Rainbow and Trans-Atlantic Geotraverse sites in order to expel the transient gut contents. Microbial communities associated with the gut of starved and reference shrimps were compared using 16S rRNA gene libraries and microscopic observations (light, transmission and scanning electron microscopy and FISH analyses). We show that the gut microbiota of shrimps from both sites included mainly Deferribacteres, Mollicutes, Epsilon- and Gammaproteobacteria. For the first time, we have observed filamentous bacteria, inserted between microvilli of gut epithelial cells. They remained after starvation periods in empty guts, suggesting the occurrence of a resident microbial community. The bacterial community composition was the same regardless of the site, except for Gammaproteobacteria retrieved only in Rainbow specimens. We observed a shift in the composition of the microbiota of long-starved specimens, from the dominance of Deferribacteres to the dominance of Gammaproteobacteria. These results reinforce the hypothesis of a symbiotic relationship between R. exoculata and its gut epibionts.
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