• Microbial mat;
  • Cyanobacterium;
  • Purple sulphur bacterium;
  • Green sulphur bacterium;
  • Ultrastructure;
  • Pigment analysis;
  • Electron microscopy;
  • Sediment-microorganism relationship


The microzination of phototrophic bacteria in a flat laminated microbiol mat at Great Sippewissett Salt Marsh on Cape Cod, Massachusetts, was studied using a combination of scanning and transmission electron microscopy, light microscopy and photosynthetic pigment analysis. Comparison of pigment content and ultrastructural information from electron microscopy of thin sections allowed us to determine the major groups of photosynthetic bacteria present. The approximately 1-cm-thick mat is located in sandy intertidal sediments of the marsh and comprised four to five distinctly colored layers. The uppermost brown layer contained Lyngbya, Nostoc, Phormidium (cyanobacteria) and Navicula (diatom) species. An intermediate bluish-green layer was dominated by Oscillatoria species. A central pink layer contained purple sulfur bacteria such as Amoebobacter, Thiocapsa, Chromatium and Thiocystis species, Below this was a distinctive orange layer, formed largely by one species of purple sulfur bacteria, Thiocapsa pfennigii. The lowermost and thinnest layer contained green sulfur bacteria of the genus Prosthecochloris, a very small prosthecate species with numerous knobby projections; this layer was not always present. Below this, where pigments were generally absent, were dark gray and black iron sulfide-rich sediments. Remnants of older decayed mats could be found deeper in the sediment. Extensive production of microbial extracellular polymers in all layers appeared to be responsible for attachment of cells to sand grains, for lamination of layers and for structural integrity of the mat as a whole. Below the layer of green sulfur bacteria, binding of sediment by microbial polymers ceased abruptly. Possibly in response to decreasing light penetration, the mean size of bacterial cells decreased in successively deeper layers. In the lowest layer where light penetration was very low, green sulfur bacteria with highly convoluted surfaces occurred. The increase in cell surface area-to-volume ratio may allow such organisms to survive at low light levels.