Insights into Microbial Mats and Possible Stromatolite Formation from Little Hot Creek, California

Friday, 19 December 2014
Danielle Niu1, Emily R. Ciscato2, Gareth George Trubl3, José Q. García-Maldonado4, William Berelson5, Hope Johnson6, Bradley S. Stevenson7, Blake W. Stamps7, Frank A Corsetti5 and John R Spear8, (1)Dartmouth College, Hanover, NH, United States, (2)ETH Zurich, Zurich, Switzerland, (3)University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ, United States, (4)Northwestern Center for Biological Research (CIBNOR), La Paz, Mexico, (5)University of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA, United States, (6)California State University Fullerton, Fullerton, CA, United States, (7)University of Oklahoma Norman Campus, Norman, OK, United States, (8)Colorado School of Mines, Golden, CO, United States
A carbonate-rich, partially lithified microbial mat from Little Hot Creek (Long Valley Caldera, CA) was studied as a potential proxy for ancient stromatolites. This microbial mat was characterized through a combination of water chemistry, 16S rRNA gene sequencing, and incubation experiments. Four distinct layers were observed in three replicate microbial mat samples based on color, texture, and microbial composition. The bacterial populations changed significantly across the mat layers: layer A (top) was dominated by the phyla Cyanobacteria (55%), Chloroflexi (14%), and Bacteroidetes (11%); layer B was dominated by Cholorflexi (57%) and Bacteroidetes (17%); layer C was dominated by Nitrospirae (23%) and Chlorobi (11%); and layer D was dominated by Nitrospirae (35%). Microbial diversity increased with depth (from layer A to layer D). The fraction of inorganic carbon and its δ13C values as well as the δ13Corg, however, remained nearly constant throughout the mat at 0.93 ± 0.03, -1.22 ± 0.10‰, and -20.44 ± 0.27‰, respectively. SEM images of the carbonate revealed similar features and highly conserved structure between layers. Incubations with δ13Cbicarbonate showed bicarbonate uptake in all layers of the mat with the highest rate of uptake occurring with the top layer in the light. The growth experiments, the microbial taxonomy and diversity, and the SEM analysis suggest top-down mat growth, with each layer originating from the “A” (top) layer. Incubation experiments with nutrient additions to each mat layer showed enhanced growth in the presence of added Mg2+ and Mn2+, but growth was inhibited with the addition of Fe2+. This data suggests that Mg2+ and Mn2+ may play an important and overlooked role in the growth of microbial mats and the biological origin of stromatolites.