Laminated microbial ecosystems on sheltered beaches in Scapa Flow, Orkney Islands


H. van Gemerden, Department of Microbiology, University of Groningen, Kerklaan 30, 9751 NN Haren, The Netherlands.


Abstract Laminated microbial sediment ecosystems which develop in the upper tidal zone of Scapa Flow beaches, Orkney Islands were investigated with respect to depth profiles of chlorophyll a, bacteriochlorophyll a, pH, redox, oxygen and the following inorganic sulfur compounds: free sulfide, FeS, polysulfides, polythionates, elemental sulfur and thiosulfate. In addition, particle size distribution and light penetration were determined at all sampling locations.

Three main types of laminated sediment ecosystems were recognized, designated the ‘classical’ type (layer of cyanobacteria underlain by layer of purple sulfur bacteria), the ‘single-layer’ type (chlorophyll a containing organisms absent, purple sulfur bacteria at sediment surface), and the ‘inverted’ type (chlorophyll a containing organisms underlying purple sulfur bacteria). The dominant purple sulfur bacterium was Thiocapsa roseopersicina and Chromatium vinosum was observed less commonly. The principal cyanobacterium found in these sulfureta was Oscillatoria sp.

The depth horizon at which maximum populations of purple sulfur bacteria were recorded often did not coincide with the sulfide/oxygen interface but was located closer to the sediment surface where polysulfides, polythionates, elemental sulfur and occasionally thiosulfate were present. The structure of these sulfureta is discussed in relation to the chemolithotrophic growth capacities of Thiocapsa in the presence of oxygen.