- Carbonate tablets inoculated with microbes from Postojna Cave, Slovenia, were observed with SEM
- Microbes and extracellular polymeric substances seen on polished tablet surfaces
- Microbially-mediated calcite dissolution/precipitation occurred in cave-like conditions
- Evidence of entombment of microbes in a Si-rich precipitate
- Methodological improvements suggested for ex-situ cave-analogue cultivation experiments
Subterranean calcite dissolution and precipitation are often considered as strictly geochemical processes. The active involvement of microbes in these processes is commonly underestimated in the literature due to general oligotrophic conditions in caves, except in particular cave conditions, such as sulfidic caves and moonmilk deposits, where the presence of microbes likely plays a key role in mineral deposition. Here, we study the possible involvement of microbes from Postojna Cave, Slovenia, in carbonate dissolution (litholysis) and precipitation (lithogenesis). Microbes were sampled from small pools below hydrologically diverse drip sites and incubated on polished limestone tablets at 10 and 20°C for 2 and 14 weeks under cave-analogue conditions. The tablets were then observed under scanning electron microscope to investigate microbe–rock interactions. Our experiments showed the presence of various microbial morphotypes, often associated with extracellular polymeric substances, firmly attached on the surfaces. Unfortunately, our surface sterilization method using 96% and 70% ethanol could not establish the complete aseptic conditions in deep natural cracks in the experimental limestone tablets. Nonetheless, our results emulate the interaction of environmental microbes with limestone rock. Conspicuous calcite dissolution and precipitation were observed in association with these microbes. Furthermore, we show evidence of entombment of microbes in a Si-rich precipitate during nutrient-depleted growth conditions and we suggest that microbial involvement in silica mobilization under ambient conditions may be a widespread and often overlooked phenomenon. Our findings have important implications for microbial-mediation of cave carbonate dissolution and precipitation, including the preservation of past climate proxy signals in speleothems and prehistoric cave art. Improvements to the methodology and further work are suggested to enable more robust ex-situ cultivation experiments in the future, facilitating better and more detailed research into this topic.
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Johnston, V.E., Martín-Pérez, A., Skok, S., Mulec, J., 2021. Microbially-mediated carbonate dissolution and precipitation; towards a protocol for ex-situ, cave-analogue cultivation experiments. International Journal of Speleology, 50(2), 137-155. https://doi.org/10.5038/1827-806X.50.2.2372