Swept Away: Resuspension of Bacterial Mats Regulates Benthic-Pelagic Exchange of Sulfur

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Science  12 Jun 1987:
Vol. 236, Issue 4807, pp. 1472-1474
DOI: 10.1126/science.236.4807.1472


Filaments and extracellular material from colorless sulfur bacteria (Beggiatoa spp.) form extensive white sulfur mats on surface sediments of coastal, oceanic, and even deep-sea environments. These chemoautotrophic bacteria oxidize soluble reduced sulfur compounds and deposit elemental sulfur, enriching the sulfur content of surface sediment fivefold over that of deeper sediments. Laboratory flume experiments with Beggiatoa mats from an intertidal sandflat (Nova Scotia) demonstrated that even slight erosion of sediment causes a flux of 160 millimoles of sulfur per square meter per hour, two orders of magnitude greater than the flux produced by sulfur transformations involving either sulfate reduction or sulfide oxidation by benthic bacteria. These experiments indicate that resuspension of sulfur bacterial mats by waves and currents is a rapid mechanism by which sediment sulfur is recycled to the water column. Benthic communities thus lose an important storage intermediate for reduced sulfur as well as a high-quality bacterial food source for benthic grazers.