Karst caves have recently been demonstrated to act as a sink for atmospheric methane, due in part to consumption by microbes residing in caves that can oxidize methane at atmospheric levels. However, our knowledge about the responsible atmospheric methane-oxidizing bacteria (atmMOB) in this vast habitat remains limited to date. To address this issue, weathered rock samples from three karst caves were collected in Guilin City and subjected to high-throughput sequencing of pmoA and 16S rRNA genes. The results showed that members of the high-affinity upland soil cluster (USC), especially upland soil cluster gamma (USCγ), with absolute abundances of 104 to 109 copies · g−1 dry sample, dominated the atmMOB communities, while Proteobacteria and Actinobacteria dominated the overall bacterial communities. Moreover, USCγ was a keystone taxon in cooccurrence networks of both the atmMOB and the total bacterial community, whereas keystone taxa in the bacterial network also included Gaiella and Aciditerrimonas. Positive links overwhelmingly dominated the cooccurrence networks of both atmMOB and the total bacterial community, indicating a consistent response to environmental disturbances. Our study shed new insights on the diversity and abundances underlining atmMOB and total bacterial communities and on microbial interactions in subterranean karst caves, which increased our understanding about USC and supported karst caves as a methane sink.
IMPORTANCE Karst caves have recently been demonstrated to be a potential atmospheric methane sink, presumably due to consumption by methane-oxidizing bacteria. However, the sparse knowledge about the diversity, distribution, and community interactions of methanotrophs requires us to seek further understanding of the ecological significance of methane oxidation in these ecosystems. Our pmoA high-throughput results from weathered rock samples from three karst caves in Guilin City confirm the wide occurrence of atmospheric methane-oxidizing bacteria in this habitat, especially those affiliated with the upland soil cluster, with a gene copy number of 104 to 109 copies per gram dry sample. Methanotrophs and the total bacterial communities had more positive than negative interactions with each other as indicated by the cooccurrence network, suggesting their consistent response to environmental disturbance. Our results solidly support caves as an atmospheric methane sink, and they contribute to a comprehensive understanding of the diversity, distribution, and interactions of microbial communities in subsurface karst caves.