Ecology of the bacteria of the sulphur cycle with special reference to anoxic-oxic interface environments

Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci. 1982 Sep 13;298(1093):543-61. doi: 10.1098/rstb.1982.0096.


H2S is produced as a main end-product of anaerobic mineralization in anoxic, sulphate-rich environments by a diverse population of sulphate-reducing bacteria. The sulphate reducers can carry out an almost complete oxidation of detrital organic matter to CO2. The H2S consequently becomes an important electron carrier from the anoxic to the oxic world. Thiobacilli and other colourless sulphur bacteria have the potential to oxidize the H2S at the oxic-anoxic interface in sediments or stratified waters, but their role is still poorly understood. A comparison of sulphide oxidation processes in the chemoclines of the Black Sea, the Solar Lake and in A beggiatoa mat indicated that depth scales and retention times of coexisting O2 and H2S regulate the bacterial involvement in the sulphide oxidation. The H2S specialists, Beggiatoa and Thiovulum, are optimally adapted to compete with the autocatalytic oxidation of H2S by O2. Microelectrode measurements show retention times of O2-H2S in the bacterial mats or veils of less than 1 s. In photic chemoclines of stratified waters or sulfureta, the phototrophic sulphur bacteria or cyanobacteria interact with the sulphide oxidation at the O2-H2S interface. Short cycles between H2S and intermediate oxidation products, So or S2O2 3-, are created. The bacteria of the sulfuretum are highly adapted to the diurnal rhythm of light, O2 and H2S.

MeSH terms

  • Ecology
  • Environment
  • Gram-Negative Anaerobic Bacteria / metabolism*
  • Hydrogen Sulfide / metabolism
  • Hypoxia
  • Light
  • Oxidation-Reduction
  • Sulfides / metabolism
  • Sulfur / metabolism*
  • Thiobacillus / metabolism*


  • Sulfides
  • Sulfur
  • Hydrogen Sulfide