Microbial communities can adapt to and colonize all kinds of habitat, owing to their metabolic versatility. They occur in abyssal oceanic situations, in polar ice caps, also in thermal springs, lakes, rivers, deserts and on carbonate (karst) platform systems.
Under favourable conditions, the microbial communities can proliferate and contribute to the construction of monumental edifices, termed microbialites2. They can do this in marine environments or in terrestrial settings. These structures are composed of mixed organic and sedimentary material resulting from the interaction between prokaryote organisms (bacteria, cyanobacteria) or eukaryotes (particularly algae and fungi), or both, with sedimentary processes and physico-chemical parameters of the particular environment. Marine microbialite morphology is extremely varied, in the form of mat-like accumulations, veils, domes, pompons shapes, clumps, or viscous masses.
The proliferation of microbialites in present-day environments, whether or not under the pressure of human activity, appears very recent (emerging over the past 20 years). It usually coincides with a creeping decay of coral community, a trend now seen in most regions of the world. This process is causing great concern, particularly so because the microbial structures grow rapidly and some of the cyanobacterial species involved are potentially toxic. Such changes could stem from recent modifications in environmental and climatic conditions (regional or local-scale). These could be natural or induced by human activity. Scientists are therefore looking into the significance that should be attached to these microbial structures as indicators of environmental climatic disturbances.
Marie-Lise Sabrie | alfa
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