Biogeochemistry of an Iron-Rich Hypersaline Microbial Mat (Camargue, France)

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Courtesy of Springer

In situ microsensor measurements were combined with biogeochemical methods to determine oxygen, sulfur, and carbon cycling in microbial mats growing in a solar saltern (Salin-de-Giraud, France). Sulfate reduction rates closely followed the daily temperature changes and were highest during the day at 25°C and lowest during the night at 11°C, most probably fueled by direct substrate interactions between cyanobacteria and sulfate-reducing bacteria. Sulfate reduction was the major mineralization process during the night and the contribution of aerobic respiration to nighttime DIC production decreased. This decrease of aerobic respiration led to an increasing contribution of sulfide (and iron) oxidation to nighttime O2 consumption. A peak of elemental sulfur in a layer of high sulfate reduction at low sulfide concentration underneath the oxic zone indicated anoxygenic photosynthesis and/or sulfide oxidation by iron, which strongly contributed to sulfide consumption. We found a significant internal carbon cycling in the mat, and sulfate reduction directly supplied DIC for photosynthesis. The mats were characterized by a high iron content of 56 mol Fe cm–3, and iron cycling strongly controlled the sulfur cycle in the mat. This included sulfide precipitation resulting in high FeS contents with depth, and reactions of iron oxides with sulfide, especially after sunset, leading to a pronounced gap between oxygen and sulfide gradients and an unusual persistence of a pH peak in the uppermost mat layer until midnight.

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