Growing Rocks: Implications of Lithification for Microbial Communities and Nutrient Cycling

Tuesday, 16 December 2014
Jessica R Corman, Amisha T Poret-Peterson and James J Elser, Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ, United States
Lithifying microbial communities (“microbialites”) have left their signature on Earth’s rock record for over 3.4 billion years and are regarded as important players in paleo-biogeochemical cycles. In this project, we study extant microbialites to understand the interactions between lithification and resource availability. All microbes need nutrients and energy for growth; indeed, nutrients are often a factor limiting microbial growth. We hypothesize that calcium carbonate deposition can sequester bioavailable phosphorus (P) and expect the growth of microbialites to be P-limited. To test our hypothesis, we first compared nutrient limitation in lithifying and non-lithifying microbial communities in Río Mesquites, Cuatro Ciénegas. Then, we experimentally manipulated calcification rates in the Río Mesquites microbialites. Our results suggest that lithifying microbialites are indeed P-limited, while non-lithifying, benthic microbial communities tend towards co-limitation by nitrogen (N) and P. Indeed, in microbialites, photosynthesis and aerobic respiration responded positively to P additions (P<0.05). Organic carbon (OC) additions caused shifts in bacterial community composition based on analysis of 16S rRNA genes. Unexpectedly, calcification rates increased with OC additions (P<0.05), but not with P additions, suggesting that sulfate reduction may be an important pathway for calcification. Experimental reductions in calcification rates caused changes to microbial biomass OC and P concentrations (P<0.01 and P<0.001, respectively), although shifts depended on whether calcification was decreased abiotically or biotically. These results show that resource availability does influence microbialite formation and that lithification may promote phosphorus limitation; however, further investigation is required to understand the mechanism by which the later occurs.