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Sabine Gerbersdorf, Thomas Jancke, Bernhard Westrich and David Paterson (2008)

Microbial stabilization of riverine sediments by extracellular polymeric substances

Geobiology, 6(1):57-69.

Sediment stability is a critical component for the understanding of cohesive sediment dynamics. Traditionally, physico-chemical sediment conditions have been regarded as most important drivers of sediment stability. However, over the last decade, the stabilization of sediment by biological activity, particularly the influence of highly hydrated matrices of extracellular polymeric substances (EPS) has been given increasing attention. However, most studies have focused on the sediment/water interface and, usually, of marine systems. The present study exploits current knowledge of EPS dynamics from marine systems and applies it to freshwater habitats, also considering a wide range of biological and physico-chemical variables. Natural sediments were taken from a freshwater site with high levels of heavy metal pollution (Lauffen reservoir, River Neckar, Germany). Vertical profiles from the flocculent surface layer to depth of 50 cm within the sediment were investigated, monthly, over the course of year. Tubificidae and Chironomidae larvae constituted the majority of the macrofauna. Despite the turbidity of the water column, a highly diverse and abundant microphytobenthic community of diatoms (11-82 mu g g(-1) DW) was found at the sediment surface closely associated with high numbers of bacteria (10(9) cells g(-1) DW). The concentrations of all EPS moieties were remarkably high (0.1-0.5, 1.7-3.8, 0.9-5.2 mg g(-1) DW, for colloidal and bound carbohydrates and proteins, respectively) and levels were comparable to those determined in intertidal studies. The microalgal and bacterial biomass both showed strong correlations with the colloidal and bound EPS carbohydrate fractions. The data suggested that the present macrofauna as well as the metabolic activities of microalgae and bacteria interact with sedimentological factors to influence the properties of the sediment by binding fine-grained sediment, changing water content and enhancing the organic content through secretion products. The colloidal and bound EPS moieties showed strong correlation with the critical shear stress for erosion over sediment depth. It is suggested that the cohesive strength of the sediment was controlled by a high number of active adsorption sites and higher charge densities in fine grained sediments. The EPS network may significantly enhance this by embedding particles and permeating the void space but also in offering additional ionic binding sites and cross-linkages.

activated-sludge, cohesive sediments, littoral sediments, erosion rates, microphytobenthos, marine benthic diatoms, exopolymer production, carbohydrate concentrations, intertidal sediments, epipelic diatoms


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