Bacteria of the genus Thermoactinomyces form endospores with an extreme longevity in natural habitats. We isolated Thermoactinomyces sacchari from 9,000-year-old varved (annually laminated) sediment; thus, T. sacchari is probably one of the oldest known living organisms. More importantly, we tested and verified the hypothesis that there is a relationship between concentrations of dormant, viable endospores of T. vulgaris in lake sediments and the extent of agriculture in the catchments of the lakes. In surface sediments, low concentrations were recorded in forest lakes and the concentrations increased with increasing areas of cultivated land around the lakes. In varved sediment cores from three lakes, we found a temporal relationship between records of T. vulgaris endospores and the pollen of plants indicating agriculture. Endospores were very rare in sediments deposited before agriculture, ca. 1100 A.D. From then to between 1300 and 1700 A.D., a period with restricted cultivation, low but more regular rates of accumulation of endospores were recorded. High endospore accumulation rates were found with the subsequent agricultural expansion. This investigation confirms suggestions that this bacterium could be used as a paleoindicator for agricultural activity and be complementary to pollen analyses. Viable bacteria in continuous records of lake sediments are also potential material for evolutionary studies
To submit an update or takedown request for this paper, please submit an Update/Correction/Removal Request.