Encyclopedia of Astrobiology

Living Edition
| Editors: Muriel Gargaud, William M. Irvine, Ricardo Amils, Henderson James Cleaves, Daniele Pinti, José Cernicharo Quintanilla, Michel Viso

Microbial Mats

  • Lucas J. Stal
Living reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-642-27833-4_5085-1



Microbial mats are benthic small-scale ecosystems that generally develop under environmental conditions that exclude fauna, often referred to as “extreme environments.” The biogeochemical cycles in microbial mats are usually largely closed, although small fluxes of elements are exchanged with the geo-, bio-, and atmosphere. An important feature of microbial mats is their carbon and nitrogen autotrophy, i.e., the fixation of inorganic carbon and atmospheric nitrogen are key processes. In illuminated environments, therefore, the photoautotrophic cyanobacteria are the mat-building organisms while in the deep sea or in some caves, chemosynthetic bacteria and archaea are the primary producers.


The term microbial matoriginates from the macroscopic structure that these...


Biogeochemistry Carbon cycle Cyanobacteria Microbial ecosystem Nitrogen cycle (biological) Purple sulfur bacteria Sulfate reducing bacteria Sulfur cycle 
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References and Further Reading

  1. Des Marais DJ (2003) Biogeochemistry of hypersaline microbial mats illustrates the dynamics of modern microbial ecosystems and the early evolution of the biosphere. Biol Bull 204:160–167CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Dupraz C, Reid RP, Braissant O, Decho AW, Norman RS, Visscher PT (2009) Processes of carbonate precipitation in modern microbial mats. Earth Sci Rev 96:141–162CrossRefADSGoogle Scholar
  3. Noffke N, Gerdes G, Klenke T (2003) Benthic cyanobacteria and their influence on the sedimentary dynamics of peritidal depositional systems (siliciclastic, evaporitic salty, and evaporitic carbonatic). Earth Sci Rev 62:163–176CrossRefADSGoogle Scholar
  4. Schopf JW (2000) Solution to Darwin’s dilemma: discovery of the missing Precambrian record of life. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 97:6947–6953zbMATHCrossRefADSGoogle Scholar
  5. Stal LJ (1995) Physiological ecology of cyanobacteria in microbial mats and other communities. New Phytol 131:1–32CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Stal LJ (2001) Coastal microbial mats: the physiology of a small-scale ecosystem. S Afr J Bot 67:399–410zbMATHGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Marine MicrobiologyRoyal Netherlands Institute of Sea Research (NIOZ)YersekeThe Netherlands