Life at the oxic–anoxic interface: microbial activities and adaptations


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Molecular oxygen is one of the most important reactants in biogeochemical cycles. Due to its low solubility in water, the consumption of oxygen leads to the development of oxic–anoxic interfaces, which separate aerobic from anaerobic processes in virtually all environments, ranging in scale from oceanic sediments to the fecal pellets of a small soil invertebrate. Three case studies were selected to illustrate the basic situation and the specific characteristics of oxic–anoxic interfaces: sediments, the rhizosphere of aquatic plants, and the intestinal tract of insects. Each system is governed by the same general principles, but striking differences arise from, e.g., the nature of the major microbial activities and the mechanisms controlling metabolite fluxes. Also scale and dimensional differences as well as the consequences of temporal fluctuations are of fundamental importance. Recent developments in microbial ecology, which often combine traditional and modern approaches, have significantly furthered our understanding of the specific microniches and the metabolic and behavioral adaptations of microorganisms to life at the oxic–anoxic interface. New concepts help to define the targets of future studies: the spatial organization of microbial populations, their microenvironments and in situ activities, and the functional interactions within structured microbial communities.