Production of polysaccharide slime by microbial mats in the hypersaline environment of a Western Australian solar saltfield

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Abstract

Of the many microorganisms present in the hypersline environment of the saltfield studied, the cyanobacteriumSynechococcus was found to be the major producer of polysaccharide slime. When dissolved in the brine, this slime caused elevated brine viscosities which impaired the quality of the salt crystallised from such brine.Synechococcus was present in benthic microbial mats throughout the 6 concentrating ponds of the saltfield, but it dominated in the ponds where brine density was above 1.10 g cm−3, corresponding to the saturation density of gypsum (CaSO4·2H2O). At such density,Synechococcus was always associated with copious amounts of slime. At lower density, the nature of the substratum over which the mat was growing affected the slime content and productivity of the mat, presumably relatively to its ability to supply nutrients to the mat. Under laboratory conditions, the addition of gypsum stimulated the growth ofSynechococcus in the presence of excess phosphate (>15 mg L−1 PO4-P). Slime production however was not stimulated by high salinity, addition of (CaSO4·2H2O), NaSO4 or nitrate deficiency. Only as cultures entered a stationary phase of growth did slime production increase. It was concluded that a nutrient limitation was probably responsible for the activation of extracellular polysaccharide production, possibly as a means of disposing of excess photosynthetically fixed carbon.