AME 38:169-180 (2005)  -  doi:10.3354/ame038169

Biofilm polymers: relationship between carbohydrate biopolymers from estuarine mudflats and unialgal cultures of benthic diatoms

B. J. Bellinger1,*, A. S. Abdullahi1, M. R. Gretz1, G. J. C. Underwood2

1Department of Biological Sciences, Michigan Technological University, 1400 Townsend Drive, Houghton, Michigan 49931, USA
2Department of Biological Sciences, University of Essex, Wivenhoe Park, Colchester CO4 3SQ, UK

ABSTRACT: Benthic microalgae (microphytobenthos) are the dominant group of primary producers in many marine intertidal and subtidal habitats. Estuarine mudflat diatoms are thought to be major contributors of extracellular polymeric substances (EPS), which are important for sediment stabilization and in benthic food chains. Biofilms from 6 sites in the Colne estuary, UK, were fractionated to isolate biopolymers (colloidal, colloidal EPS [cEPS], low molecular weight [LMW] carbohydrates, hot water [HW] and hot bicarbonate [HB] soluble) and the same techniques were applied to diatoms cultured from these sediments. At sites dominated by benthic diatoms, colloidal carbohydrate concentration and chlorophyll a were closely related. With increasing biomass, the proportion of cEPS within the colloidal fraction decreased from 60 to 20%. Carbohydrate analysis revealed significant differences in monosaccharide and uronic acid composition of different carbohydrate fractions. Principal component analysis (PCA) of monosaccharide composition of HB polymers from both field and culture samples grouped closely along fucose and rhamnose vectors and formed 2 distinct clusters. HW and LMW fractions grouped along the glucose vector and cEPS polymers along the galactose and arabinose vectors. These data indicate that the simple relationship between colloidal carbohydrate concentration and microphytobenthic biomass in biofilms masks a high degree of potential complexity within the sediment carbohydrate pool and in the different proportions of polymeric and nonpolymeric material between different biofilms. Comparing monosaccharide composition of extracts generated using the same protocol, natural assemblages showed close relationships with unialgal cultures, confirming the important role of diatom-derived polymers in mudflat ecology.

KEY WORDS: Diatoms · Biofilms · Microphytobenthos · EPS · Monosaccharide distribution · Uronic acids · Biopolymers · Fractionation

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