Micron-scale mapping of sulfur cycling across the oxycline of a cyanobacterial mat: A paired nanoSIMS and CARD-FISH approach

David Andrew Fike, Crystal Lynn Gammon, Wiebke Ziebis, Victoria Jeanne Orphan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

115 Scopus citations


The metabolic activities of microbial mats have likely regulated biogeochemical cycling over most of Earth's history. However, the relationship between metabolic activity and the establishment of isotopic geochemical gradients in these mats remains poorly constrained. Here we present a parallel microgeochemical and microbiological study of micron-scale sulfur cycling within hypersaline microbial mats from Guerrero Negro, Baja California Sur, Mexico. Dissolved sulfide within the mats was captured on silver discs and analyzed for its abundance and δ34S isotopic composition using high-resolution secondary ion mass spectrometry (nanoSIMS). These results were compared to sulfide and oxygen microelectrode profiles. Two-dimensional microgeochemical mapping revealed well-defined laminations in sulfide concentration (on scales from 1 to 200 μm), trending toward increased sulfide concentrations at depth. Sulfide δ34S decreased from ∼+10‰ to -20‰ in the uppermost 3 mm and oscillated repeatedly between -10‰ and -30‰ down to a depth of 8 mm. These variations are attributed to spatially variable bacterial sulfate reduction within the mat. A parallel examination of the spatial distribution of known sulfate-reducing bacteria within the family Desulfobacteraceae was conducted using catalyzed reporter deposition fluorescence in situ hybridization. Significant concentrations of Desulfobacteraceae were observed in both oxic and anoxic zones of the mat and occurred in several distinct layers, in large aggregates and heterogeneously dispersed as single cells throughout. The spatial distribution of these microorganisms is consistent with the variation in sulfide concentration and isotopic composition we observed. The parallel application of the methodologies developed here can shed light on micron-scale sulfur cycling within microbially dominated sedimentary environments.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)749-759
Number of pages11
JournalISME Journal
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 2008


  • Guerrero Negro
  • In situ hybridization
  • Microcoleus
  • NanoSIMS
  • Sulfate-reducing bacteria
  • Sulfur isotopes


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