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Cyanobacterial diversity and activity in modern conical microbialites



This article is corrected by:

  1. Errata: Corrigendum Volume 11, Issue 1, 100, Article first published online: 11 December 2012

  • S.P.T., B.L., T.D.W. and T.B. contributed equally to this work.

Corresponding author: T. Bosak. Tel.: +01-617-324-3959; fax: +01-617-253-8630; e-mail:


Modern conical microbialites are similar to some ancient conical stromatolites, but growth, behavior and diversity of cyanobacteria in modern conical microbialites remain poorly characterized. Here, we analyze the diversity of cyanobacterial 16S rRNA gene sequences in conical microbialites from 14 ponds fed by four thermal sources in Yellowstone National Park and compare cyanobacterial activity in the tips of cones and in the surrounding topographic lows (mats), respectively, by high-resolution mapping of labeled carbon. Cones and adjacent mats contain similar 16S rRNA gene sequences from genetically distinct clusters of filamentous, non-heterocystous cyanobacteria from Subsection III and unicellular cyanobacteria from Subsection I. These sequences vary among different ponds and between two sampling years, suggesting that coniform mats through time and space contain a number of cyanobacteria capable of vertical aggregation, filamentous cyanobacteria incapable of initiating cone formation and unicellular cyanobacteria. Unicellular cyanobacteria are more diverse in topographic lows, where some of these organisms respond to nutrient pulses more rapidly than thin filamentous cyanobacteria. The densest active cyanobacteria are found below the upper 50 μm of the cone tip, whereas cyanobacterial cells in mats are less dense, and are more commonly degraded or encrusted by silica. These spatial differences in cellular activity and density within macroscopic coniform mats imply a strong role for diffusion limitation in the development and the persistence of the conical shape. Similar mechanisms may have controlled the growth, morphology and persistence of small coniform stromatolites in shallow, quiet environments throughout geologic history.