Biogeochemical cycles of carbon, sulfur, and free oxygen in a microbial mat

Geochim Cosmochim Acta. 1993 Aug;57(16):3971-84. doi: 10.1016/0016-7037(93)90347-y.


Complete budgets for carbon and oxygen have been constructed for cyanobacterial mats dominated by Microcoleus chthonoplastes from the evaporating ponds of a salt works located in Guerrero Negro, Baja California Sur, Mexico. Included in the budget are measured rates of O2 production, sulfate reduction, and elemental exchange across the mat/brine interface, day and night, at various temperatures and times of the year. We infer from this data the various sinks for O2, as well as the sources of carbon for primary production. To summarize, although seasonal variability exists, a major percentage of the O2 produced during the day did not diffuse out of the mat but was used within the mat to oxidize both organic carbon and the sulfide produced by sulfate reduction. At night, most of the O2 that diffused into the mat was used to oxidize sulfide, with O2 respiration of minor importance. During the day, the internal mat processes of sulfate reduction and O2 respiration generated as much or more inorganic carbon (DIC) for primary production as diffusion into the mat. Also, oxygenic photosynthesis was the most important process of carbon fixation, although anoxygenic photosynthesis may have been important at low light levels during some times of the year. At night, the DIC lost from the mat was mostly from sulfate reduction. Elemental fluxes across the mat/brine interface indicated that carbon with an oxidation state of greater than zero was taken up by the mat during the day and liberated from the mat at night. Overall, carbon with an average oxidation state of near zero accumulated in the mat. Both carbon fixation and carbon oxidation rates varied with temperature by a similar amount. These mats are thus closely coupled systems where rapid rates of photosynthesis both require and fuel rapid rates of heterotrophic carbon oxidation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Carbon / chemistry
  • Carbon / metabolism*
  • Cell Respiration
  • Cyanobacteria / metabolism*
  • Darkness
  • Environmental Microbiology*
  • Light
  • Marine Biology
  • Mexico
  • Oxygen / chemistry
  • Oxygen / metabolism*
  • Photosynthesis / physiology
  • Photosynthesis / radiation effects
  • Sulfates / metabolism
  • Sulfur / chemistry
  • Sulfur / metabolism*
  • Sulfur-Reducing Bacteria / metabolism*
  • Temperature


  • Sulfates
  • Sulfur
  • Carbon
  • Oxygen