Meier, Dimitri V. ORCID:, Greve, Andreas J., Chennu, Arjun ORCID:, van Erk, Marit R., Muthukrishnan, Thirumahal, Abed, Raeid M. M., Woebken, Dagmar and de Beer, Dirk (2021) Limitation of microbial processes at saturation-level salinities in a microbial mat covering a coastal saltflat. Applied and Environmental Microbiology . DOI

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Hypersaline microbial mats are dense microbial ecosystems capable of performing complete element cycling and are considered analogs of Early Earth and hypothetical extraterrestrial ecosystems. We studied the functionality and limits of key biogeochemical processes, such as photosynthesis, aerobic respiration, and sulfur cycling in salt crust-covered microbial mats from a tidal flat at the coast of Oman. We measured light, oxygen, and sulfide microprofiles as well as sulfate-reduction rates at salt saturation and in flood conditions and determined fine-scale stratification of pigments, biomass, and microbial taxa in the resident microbial community.
The salt crust did not protect the mats against irradiation or evaporation. Although some oxygen production was measurable at salinity ≤ 30% (w/v) in situ, at saturation-level salinity (40%), oxygenic photosynthesis was completely inhibited and only resumed two days after reducing the pore water salinity to 12%. Aerobic respiration and active sulfur cycling occurred at low rates under salt saturation and increased strongly upon salinity reduction. Apart from high relative abundances of Chloroflexi, photoheterotrophic Alphaproteobacteria, Bacteroidetes, and Archaea, the mat contained a distinct layer harboring filamentous Cyanobacteria, which is unusual for such high salinities.
Our results show that the diverse microbial community inhabiting this saltflat mat ultimately depends on periodic salt dilution to be self-sustaining and is rather adapted to merely survive salt saturation than to thrive under the salt crust.
Due to their abilities to survive intense radiation and low water availability hypersaline microbial mats are often suggested to be analogs of potential extraterrestrial life. However, even on Earth the limitations imposed on microbial processes by saturation-level salinity have rarely been studied in situ. While abundance and diversity of microbial life in salt-saturated environments is well documented, most of our knowledge on process limitations stems from culture-based studies, few in situ studies, and theoretical calculations. Especially oxygenic photosynthesis has barely been explored beyond 5M NaCl (28% w/v). By applying a variety of biogeochemical and molecular methods we show that despite abundance of photoautotrophic microorganisms, oxygenic photosynthesis is inhibited in salt-crust covered microbial mats at saturation salinities, while rates of other energy generation processes are decreased several fold. Hence, the complete element cycling required for self-sustaining microbial communities only occurs at lower salt concentrations.

Document Type: Article
Programme Area: PA3
Research affiliation: Integrated Modelling > Data Science and Technology
Refereed: Yes
Open Access Journal?: No
ISSN: 0099-2240
Related URLs:
Date Deposited: 14 Sep 2021 14:32
Last Modified: 27 Nov 2023 12:22

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