We studied the interaction between phototrophic and chemolithoautotrophic sulphide-oxidizing microorganisms in natural microbial mats forming in sulphidic streams. The structure of these mats varied between two end-members: one characterized by a layer dominated by large sulphur-oxidizing bacteria (SOB; mostly Beggiatoa-like) on top of a cyanobacterial layer (B/C mats) and the other with an inverted structure (C/B mats). C/B mats formed where the availability of oxygen from the water column was limited (<5 μm). Aerobic chemolithotrophic activity of the SOB depended entirely on oxygen produced locally by cyanobacteria during high light conditions. In contrast, B/C mats formed at locations where oxygen in the water column was comparatively abundant (>45 μM) and continuously present. Here SOB were independent of the photosynthetic activity of cyanobacteria and outcompeted the cyanobacteria in the uppermost layer of the mat where energy sources for both functional groups were concentrated. Outcompetition of photosynthetic microbes in the presence of light was facilitated by the decoupling of aerobic chemolithotrophy and oxygenic phototrophy. Remarkably, the B/C mats conserved much less energy than the C/B mats, although similar amounts of light and chemical energy were available. Thus ecosystems do not necessarily develop towards optimal energy usage. Our data suggest that, when two independent sources of energy are available, the structure and activity of microbial communities is primarily determined by the continuous rather than the intermittent energy source, even if the time-integrated energy flux of the intermittent energy source is greater.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics