Unravelling the microbial role in ooid formation – results of an in situ experiment in modern freshwater Lake Geneva in Switzerland


Corresponding author: K. Plee. Tel.: +41 22 379 6650; fax: +41 22 379 3210; e-mail: karine.plee@terre.unige.ch.


The microbial role in the formation of the cortex of low-Mg calcite freshwater ooids in western part of Lake Geneva in Switzerland has been suggested previously, but not demonstrated conclusively. Early work mostly concentrated in hypersaline milieus, and hence little is known about their genesis in freshwater environments. We designed an in situ experiment to mimic the natural process of low-Mg calcite precipitation. A special device was placed in the ooid-rich bank of the lake. It contained frosted glass (SiO2) slides, while quartz (SiO2) is the most abundant mineral composition of ooid nuclei that acted as artificial substrates to favour microbial colonization. Microscopic inspection of the slides revealed a clear seasonal pattern of carbonate precipitates, which were always closely associated with biofilms that developed on the surface of the frosted slides containing extracellular polymeric substance, coccoid and filamentous cyanobacteria, diatoms and heterotrophic bacteria. Carbonate precipitation peaks during early spring and late summer, and low-Mg calcite crystals mostly occur in close association with filamentous and coccoid cyanobacteria (e.g. Tolypothrix, Oscillatoria and Synechococcus, Anacystis, respectively). Further scanning electron microscope inspection of the samples revealed low-Mg calcite with crystal forms varying from anhedral to euhedral rhombohedra, depending on the seasons. Liquid cultures corroborate the in situ observations and demonstrate that under the same physicochemical conditions the absence of biofilms prevents the precipitation of low-Mg calcite crystals.

These results illustrate that biofilms play a substantial role in low-Mg calcite ooid cortex formation. It further demonstrates the involvement of microbes in the early stages of ooid development. Combined with ongoing microbial cultures under laboratory-controlled conditions, the outcome of our investigation favoured the hypothesis of external microbial precipitation of low-Mg calcite as the main mechanism involved in the early stage of ooid formation in freshwater Lake Geneva.