GEOMICROBIOLOGY IN CAVE ENVIRONMENTS: PAST, CURRENT AND FUTURE PERSPECTIVES
The Karst Waters Institute Breakthroughs in Karst Geomicrobiology and Redox Geochemistry conference in 1994 was a watershed event in the history of cave geomicrobiology studies within the US. Since that time, studies of cave geomicrobiology have accelerated in number, complexity of techniques used, and depth of the results obtained. The field has moved from being sparse and largely descriptive in nature, to rich in experimental studies yielding fresh insights into the nature of microbe-mineral interactions in caves. To provide insight into the changing nature of cave geomicrobiology we have divided our review into research occurring before and after the Breakthroughs conference, and concentrated on secondary cave deposits: sulfur (sulfidic systems), iron and manganese (ferromanganese, a.k.a. corrosion residue deposits), nitrate (a.k.a. saltpeter), and carbonate compounds (speleothems and moonmilk deposits). The debate concerning the origin of saltpeter remains unresolved; progress has been made on identifying the roles of bacteria in sulfur cave ecosystems, including cavern enlargement through biogenic sulfuric acid; new evidence provides a model for the action of bacteria in forming some moonmilk deposits; combined geochemical and molecular phylogenetic studies suggest that some ferromanganese deposits are biogenic, the result of redox reactions; and evidence is accumulating that points to an active role for microorganisms in carbonate precipitation in speleothems.