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  1. Hydrogenotrophic methanogens are ubiquitous chemoautotrophic archaea inhabiting globally distributed deep-sea hydrothermal vent ecosystems and associated subseafloor niches within the rocky subseafloor, yet little is known about how they adapt and diversify in these habitats. To determine genomic variation and selection pressure within methanogenic populations at vents, we examined five Methanothermococcus single cell amplified genomes (SAGs) in conjunction with 15 metagenomes and 10 metatranscriptomes from venting fluids at two geochemically distinct hydrothermal vent fields on the Mid-Cayman Rise in the Caribbean Sea. We observed that some Methanothermococcus lineages and their transcripts were more abundant than others in individual vent sites, indicating differential fitness among lineages. The relative abundances of lineages represented by SAGs in each of the samples matched phylogenetic relationships based on single-copy universal genes, and genes related to nitrogen fixation and the CRISPR/Cas immune system were among those differentiating the clades. Lineages possessing these genes were less abundant than those missing that genomic region. Overall, patterns in nucleotide variation indicated that the population dynamics of Methanothermococcus were not governed by clonal expansions or selective sweeps, at least in the habitats and sampling times included in this study. Together, our results show that although specific lineages of Methanothermococcus co-exist in these habitats, some outcompete others, and possession of accessory metabolic functions does not necessarily provide a fitness advantage in these habitats in all conditions. This work highlights the power of combining single-cell, metagenomic, and metatranscriptomic datasets to determine how evolution shapes microbial abundance and diversity in hydrothermal vent ecosystems. 
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  2. Summary

    The structure and function of microbial communities inhabiting the subseafloor near hydrothermal systems are influenced by fluid geochemistry, geologic setting and fluid flux between vent sites, as well as biological interactions. Here, we used genome‐resolved metagenomics and metatranscriptomics to examine patterns of gene abundance and expression and assess potential niche differentiation in microbial communities in venting fluids from hydrothermal vent sites at the Mid‐Cayman Rise. We observed similar patterns in gene and transcript abundance between two geochemically distinct vent fields at the community level but found that each vent site harbours a distinct microbial community with differing transcript abundances for individual microbial populations. Through an analysis of metabolic pathways in 64 metagenome‐assembled genomes (MAGs), we show that MAG transcript abundance can be tied to differences in metabolic pathways and to potential metabolic interactions between microbial populations, allowing for niche‐partitioning and divergence in both population distribution and activity. Our results illustrate that most microbial populations have a restricted distribution within the seafloor, and that the activity of those microbial populations is tied to both genome content and abiotic factors.

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