Microphytobenthic extracellular polymeric substances (EPS) in intertidal sediments fuel both generalist and specialist EPS-degrading bacteria

Joe D. Taylor, Boyd A. McKew, Alison Kuhl, Terry J. McGenity and Graham J. C. Underwood

Limnol. Oceanogr., 58(4), 2013, 1463-1480 | DOI: 10.4319/lo.2013.58.4.1463

ABSTRACT: Microphytobenthic biofilms contain high concentrations of carbohydrate-rich extracellular polymeric substances (EPS) that are important in sediment carbon cycling. Field measurements at two locations in the Colne Estuary, U.K., showed that a significant curvilinear relationship explained 50% of the variability in chlorophyll a and EPS content. Estimates of EPS production, based on field data and published rates of production by diatoms, revealed that EPS turnover of 52% to 369% over the tidal cycle was required to account for field standing stocks. We investigated EPS degradation in sediment slurries using purified 13C-EPS produced by the diatom Nitzschia tubicola. Although EPS constituted only 5% of the sediment dissolved organic carbon (DOC) pool, 100% of the added EPS was utilized within 30 h, before decreases in other sediment-carbohydrate fractions and DOC concentrations. A general 13C enrichment of phospholipid fatty acids (PLFAs), representative of Gram-positive and Gram-negative bacteria, occurred within 6 h, with the PLFAs a15:0, i15:0, and 18:1ω7c being highly enriched. The diatom PLFA 20:5ω3 had relatively low but significant 13C enrichment. Stable isotope probing of 16S ribosomal ribonucleic acid (RNA-SIP) at 30 h revealed 13C-enriched sequences from the diatom genus Navicula; further evidence that diatoms assimilated the EPS, or EPS-breakdown products, from other diatom taxa. RNA-SIP also demonstrated a diverse range of highly 13C-enriched bacterial taxa, including a distinct subset (Alphaproteobacteria and Gammaproteobacteria) found only in the heavily labeled microbial assemblages. Thus, cycling of diatom EPS is rapid, and involves a wide range of microbial taxa, including some apparent specialists.

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