Cyanobacterial Contribution to Travertine Deposition in the Hoyoux River System, Belgium
Travertine deposition is a landscape-forming process, usually building a series of calcareous barriers differentiating the river flow into a series of cascades and ponds. The process of carbonate precipitation is a complex relationship between biogenic and abiotic causative agents, involving adapted microbial assemblages but also requiring high levels of carbonate saturation, spontaneous degassing of carbon dioxide and slightly alkaline pH. We have analysed calcareous crusts and water chemistry from four sampling sites along the Hoyoux River and its Triffoy tributary (Belgium) in winter, spring, summer and autumn 2014. Different surface textures of travertine deposits correlated with particular microenvironments and were influenced by the local water flow. In all microenvironments, we have identified the cyanobacterium Phormidium incrustatum (Nägeli) Gomont as the organism primarily responsible for carbonate precipitation and travertine fabric by combining morphological analysis with molecular sequencing (16S rRNA gene and ITS, the Internal Transcribed Spacer fragments), targeting both field populations and cultures to exclude opportunistic microorganisms responding favourably to culture conditions. Several closely related cyanobacterial strains were cultured; however, only one proved identical with the sequences obtained from the field population by direct PCR. This strain was the dominant primary producer in the calcareous deposits under study and in similar streams in Europe. The dominance of one organism that had a demonstrated association with carbonate precipitation presented a valuable opportunity to study its function in construction, preservation and fossilisation potential of ambient temperature travertine deposits. These relationships were examined using scanning electron microscopy and Raman microspectroscopy.