Microbial mediation of stromatolite formation in karst-water creeks

Bissett, Andrew, Dirk de Beer, Raphaela Schoon, Fumito Shiraishi, Andreas Reimer, Gernot Arp

Limnol. Oceanogr., 53(3), 2008, 1159-1168 | DOI: 10.4319/lo.2008.53.3.1159

ABSTRACT: Epilithic and endolithic biofilms were found to control the formation of stromatolites in karst-water creeks. We used microsensors to determine the influence of biological processes on chemical conditions within the microenvironment of crystal nucleation sites: the stromatolite surface. Phototrophic members of the biofilms consisted of mainly cyanobacteria and diatoms. Oxygen, pH, calcium, and carbonate concentration microprofiles at the stromatolite surface and boundary layer showed a strong diurnal rhythm of calcium carbonate precipitation. During illumination, photosynthesis caused oxygen production, a marked increase in pH and CO32- concentrations, and a decrease in Ca2+ concentration at the stromatolite surface due to calcium carbonate precipitation. The opposite occurred in the dark, indicating decalcification. Calcite was approximately 16 times oversaturated in the bulk water, photosynthesis induced an increase of the supersaturation to <27 at the stromatolite surface under illumination, and respiration induced a decrease of the supersaturation to >10 in the dark. Photosynthetically stimulated calcium carbonate precipitation was confirmed by radioactive isotope (45Ca2+) uptake studies. Over a 24 h light : dark cycle, biofilms showed net calcification. Biotic activity within the stromatolite has a large effect on conditions at its surface and, therefore, contributes considerably to the stromatolite precipitation process.

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