Tropical peat swamp forests are important and endangered ecosystems, although little is known of their microbial diversity and ecology. We used molecular and enzymatic techniques to examine patterns in prokaryotic community structure and overall microbial activity at 0-, 10-, 20-, and 50-cm depths in sediments in a peat swamp forest in Malaysia. Denaturing gradient gel electrophoresis profiles of amplified 16S ribosomal ribonucleic acid (rRNA) gene fragments showed that different depths harbored different bacterial assemblages and that Archaea appeared to be limited to the deeper samples. Cloning and sequencing of longer 16S rRNA gene fragments suggested reduced microbial diversity in the deeper samples compared to the surface. Bacterial clone libraries were largely dominated by ribotypes affiliated with the Acidobacteria, which accounted for at least 27–54% of the sequences obtained. All of the sequenced representatives from the archaeal clone libraries were Crenarchaeota. Activities of microbial extracellular enzymes involved in carbon, nitrogen, and phosphorus cycling declined appreciably with depth, the only exception being peroxidase. These results show that tropical peat swamp forests are unusual systems with microbial assemblages dominated by members of the Acidobacteria and Crenarchaeota. Microbial communities show clear changes with depth, and most microbial activity is likely confined to populations in the upper few centimeters, the site of new leaf litter fall, rather than the deeper, older, peat layers.
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