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Vol. 18, No. 2, 20
14; Page: 311 - 329

Characterization of bacterial diversity associated with microbial mats, gypsum evaporites and carbonate microbialites in thalassic wetlands: Tebenquiche and La Brava, Salar de Atacama, Chile

M. E. Farías, M. Contreras, M. C. Rasuk, D. Kurth, M. R. Flores, D. G. Poiré, F. Novoa, P. T. Visscher

Laboratorio de Investigaciones Microbiológicas de Lagunas Andinas (LIMLA), Planta Piloto de Procesos Industriales Microbiológicos (PROIMI), CCT, CONICET, Tucumán, Argentina.


In this paper, we report the presence of sedimentary microbial ecosystems in wetlands of the Salar de Atacama. These laminated systems, which bind, trap and precipitate mineral include: microbial mats at Laguna Tebenquiche and Laguna La Brava, gypsum domes at Tebenquiche and carbonate microbialites at La Brava. Microbial diversity and key biogeochemical characteristics of both lakes (La Brava and Tebenquiche) and their various microbial ecosystems (non-lithifying mats, flat and domal microbialites) were determined. The composition and abundance of minerals ranged from trapped and bound halite in organic-rich non-lithifying mats to aragonite-dominated lithified flat microbialites and gypsum in lithified domal structures. Pyrosequencing of the V4 region of the 16srDNA gene showed that Proteobacteria comprised a major phylum in all of the microbial ecosystems studied, with a marked lower abundance in the non-lithifying mats. A higher proportion of Bacteroidetes was present in Tebenquiche sediments compared to La Brava samples. The concentration of pigments, particularly that of Chlorophyll a, was higher in the Tebenquiche than in La Brava. Pigments typically associated with anoxygenic phototrophic bacteria were present in lower amounts. Organic-rich, non-lithifying microbial mats frequently formed snake-like, bulbous structures due to gas accumulation underneath the mat. We hypothesize that the lithified microbialites might have developed from these snake-like microbial mats following mineral precipitation in the surface layer, producing domes with endoevaporitic communities in Tebenquiche and carbonate platforms in La Brava. Whereas the potential role of microbes in carbonate platforms is well established, the contribution of endoevaporitic microbes to formation of gypsum domes needs further investigation.

Keywords: Hypersaline lakes; Microbial mats; Microbialites; Atacama

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