Microbiology and geochemistry of Little Hot Creek, a hot spring environment in the Long Valley Caldera.
In extreme thermal environments such as hot springs, phages are the only known microbial predators. Here we present the first study of prokaryotic and phage community dynamics in these environments. Phages were abundant in hot springs, reaching concentrations of a million viruses per milliliter. Hot spring phage particles were resistant to shifts to lower temperatures, possibly facilitating DNA transfer out of these extreme environments. The phages were actively produced, with a population turnover time of 1 to 2 days. Phage-mediated microbial mortality was significant, making phage lysis an important component of hot spring microbial food webs. Together, these results show that phages exert an important influence on microbial community structure and energy flow in extreme thermal environments.