Comparative metagenomics provides insight into the ecosystem functioning of the Shark Bay Stromatolites, Western Australia

Joany Babilonia, Ana Conesa, Giorgio Casaburi, Cecile Pereira, Artemis S. Louyakis, R. Pamela Reid, Jamie S. Foster

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Scopus citations


Stromatolites are organosedimentary build-ups that have formed as a result of the sediment trapping, binding and precipitating activities of microbes. Today, extant systems provide an ideal platform for understanding the structure, composition, and interactions between stromatolite-forming microbial communities and their respective environments. In this study, we compared the metagenomes of three prevalent stromatolite-forming microbial mat types in the Spaven Province of Hamelin Pool, Shark Bay located in Western Australia. These stromatolite-forming mat types included an intertidal pustular mat as well as a smooth and colloform mat types located in the subtidal zone. Additionally, the metagenomes of an adjacent, non-lithifying mat located in the upper intertidal zone were also sequenced for comparative purposes. Taxonomic and functional gene analyses revealed distinctive differences between the lithifying and non-lithifying mat types, which strongly correlated with water depth. Three distinct populations emerged including the upper intertidal non-lithifying mats, the intertidal pustular mats associated with unlaminated carbonate build-ups, and the subtidal colloform and smooth mat types associated with laminated structures. Functional analysis of metagenomes revealed that amongst stromatolite-forming mats there was an enrichment of photosynthesis pathways in the pustular stromatolite-forming mats. In the colloform and smooth stromatolite-forming mats, however, there was an increase in the abundance of genes associated with those heterotrophic metabolisms typically associated with carbonate mineralization, such as sulfate reduction. The comparative metagenomic analyses suggest that stromatolites of Hamelin Pool may form by two distinctive processes that are highly dependent on water depth. These results provide key insight into the potential adaptive strategies and synergistic interactions between microbes and their environments that may lead to stromatolite formation and accretion.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number1359
JournalFrontiers in Microbiology
Issue numberJUN
StatePublished - Jun 25 2018


  • Comparative metagenomics
  • Hamelin Pool
  • Microbial mat
  • Shark Bay
  • Stromatolite

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Microbiology
  • Microbiology (medical)


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