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Microphytobenthos, their Extracellular Polymeric Substances, and the Morphogenesis of Intertidal Sediments

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Intertidal sediments are important areas that separate the land from the sea and form natural coastal defenses. They are known as highly productive ecosystems, fueling the coastal food web. It is also conceived that microphytobenthos contribute to the stability of intertidal sediments by increasing the erosion threshold and that they are major players in coastal morphodynamics. Depending on the sedimentary composition of intertidal flats, different types of microphytobenthos colonize the sediment surface. Fine sand sediment is often colonized by cyanobacteria, prokaryotic algae, which form dense and rigid microbial mats. Mudflats on the other hand are characterized by the development of thin biofilms of epipelic diatoms. Both groups of phototrophic microorganisms excrete extracellular polymeric substances (EPS), but they do so in different ways and for different reasons. Two operationally defined fractions, water- and EDTA-extractable EPS, have been obtained from intertidal diatom biofilms and from cultures. They differ in composition and their production seems to be under different metabolic control. Water-extractable EPS are considered to be closely associated with the diatoms and are rich in neutral sugars, notably glucose. These EPS show a dynamic relationship with the microphytobenthic biomass. EDTA-extractable EPS are tightly bound to the sediment, probably through bridging by divalent ions. This material is rich in uronic acids and other acid sugars and is weakly related to chlorophyll. These EPS have been conceived to be a major factor in the structuring and diagenesis of coastal sediments and essential for increasing the sediment erosion threshold. However, this relationship is now questioned.

Keywords: Cyanobacterial Mats; Diatom Biofilms; Eps (extracellular Polymeric Substances); Intertidal Mudflats; Sediment Stability

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Netherlands Institute of Ecology--KNAW, Department of Marine Microbiology, Yerseke, Netherlands

Publication date: 2003-09-01

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