Methanogenic crude oil-degrading microbial consortia are not universally abundant in anoxic environments
Crude oil-amended microcosms were prepared with inocula from eleven anoxic environments (4 river sediments, 3 lake sediments, and 4 sludges from wastewater treatment reactors) to determine their ability to produce methane from the biodegradation of crude oil. Over incubation periods of up to 1150 days, oil-stimulated methanogenesis and concomitant loss of alkanes occurred in microcosms prepared with five of the inocula whereas six of the inocula did not show oil-stimulated methane production. Bacterial and archaeal communities from microcosms exhibiting high levels of oil-stimulated methanogenesis were distinct from communities where methanogenic crude oil degradation was not detected. Successional changes were consistent with the quantitative enrichment of syntrophic hydrocarbon degrading bacteria and methanogens over time. In conclusion, in oil-impacted environments methanogenic crude oil-degrading microbial consortia are present in relatively low abundance and exhibit slow growth, and while they may be ubiquitously distributed they may not be present at sufficiently high abundance to be detected.