Ecophysiology of stromatolitic microbial mats, Stocking Island, exuma cays, Bahamas

J. Pinckney, H. W. Paerl, R. P. Reid, B. Bebout

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

37 Scopus citations


Intertidal stromatolites, covered by cyanobacterial mats, were recently discovered at Stocking Island, Exuma Cays, Bahamas. Ecophysiological responses (CO2 fixation, N2 fixation, and photoacclimation) of these cyanobacterial mats to experimental manipulations were examined to identify potential environmental variables controlling community structure and function. The mats exhibit horizontal zonation that shifts from soft to crusty to hard in a seaward direction. Cluster analysis of chemotaxonomic photopigments (chlorophylls and carotenoids) revealed that visually distinct mat types are composed of distinct phototrophic assemblages. Under reduced irradiance, diatoms within the mats photoacclimated by increasing accessory photopigments (diadinoxanthin, fucoxanthin, and chlorophyll c1c2) and cyanobacteria reduced the photoprotective carotenoid echinenone. In a 4-day nutrient addition bioassay experiment, nitrate, phosphate, dissolved organic carbon, and trace metal enrichments did not enhance CO2 fixation, but phosphate enrichments tripled N2 fixation rates. The addition of DCMU increased N2 fixation rates relative to nonamended light and dark rates, indicating light (photosystem I) enhanced nitrogenase activity. Soft mats appear to represent the early stages of colonization and stabilization of mat communities. Active growth following stabilization results in the formation of partially-lithified crusty mats, which eventually become highly-lithified and form hard mats. Collectively, our results suggest that Stocking Island stromatolitic mats have low growth rates and consequently exhibit slow responses to increased nutrient availability and changes in ambient irradiance. In general, intertidal stromatolitic mats at Stocking Island appear to exhibit low rates of CO2 and N2 fixation relative to nonlithifying temperate cyanobacteral mats. Although production is low, respiration is likewise low, leading to the suggestion that high production to respiration ratios (P:R) may be necessary for lithification of intertidal stromatolitic mats.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)19-37
Number of pages19
JournalMicrobial Ecology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1995

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Ecology
  • Soil Science


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