Microbial mats from the Llamará salt flat, northern Chile

Cecilia Demergasso, Guillermo Chong, Pedro Galleguillos, Lorena Escudero, Maira Martínez-Alonso, Isabel Esteve

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40 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Stratified photosynthetic microbial mats are described from the Salar de Llamará, a salt flat basin located in the Atacama desert of northern Chile. Microscopic and spectrophotometric techniques were used. The thickness of the photic zone of these communities spans 8 to 30 mm. This is probably due to the grain size and mineralogical composition of associated sediments. Three different types of mats were recognized. A first one was characterized by a green pigmented layer; a second with orange and green coloured layers, and the third with orange and green layers and an additional purple layer. At one sampling site, no pigmented layers were present. Sediments underlying the mats were white, but in one site, black coloured sediments were observed; this dark colour is probably the result of iron sulphide precipitation. Predominant microorganisms in the orange pigmented layers were diatoms and unicellular cyanobacteria, mainly from the Cyanothece and Synechococcus groups. Filamentous cyanobacteria Microleus sp. and Oscillatoria sp. were the most abundant in the green layer. When interstitial brines reached salinities between 12 and 33 %, no diatoms were observed, and the coccoidal cyanobacteria from the Synechococcus, Cyanothece and Gloeocapsa groups and genus Gloeobacter predominated over filamentous Cyanobacteria in the green layer. The purple layer was built primarily of anoxygenic phototrophic bacteria similar to cells of the genera Chromatium and Thiocapsa. Absorption spectra revealed that chlorophyll a is the most abundant pigment in most of analyzed samples. Integrated values of chlorophyll a and bacteriochlorophyll a reached values of up to 230 and 144 mg m-2 along all of the pigmented zone, respectively. Abundant non-photosynthetic microorganisms were found in the mats, including unidentified cocci and bacilli. Sulphate reducing bacteria were present in all the sampled mats.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)485-499
JournalRevista Chilena de Historia Natural
Volume76
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sep 2003

Keywords

  • Chile
  • Desert
  • Microbial mats
  • Phototrophic bacteria
  • Salt flats

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