The transition to microbial photosynthesis in hot spring ecosystems

Alysia Cox, Everett L. Shock, Jeff R. Havig

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    74 Scopus citations


    Even casual observations of continental hot springs reveal that photosynthesis has its limits. In an effort to explore the transition to photosynthesis, field measurements of temperature and pH were made at 996 hot spring locations at Yellowstone National Park ranging from 14° to 94°C and pH from 0.8 to 9.7. In addition, sulfide measurements were made in 426 of these locations showing concentrations up to 8820μgL-1 total sulfide. These data indicate that the previously established upper temperature (73-75°C) for the transition to photosynthesis is reached in many basic hot springs, but that the transition occurs at lower temperature with decreasing pH below ~6.5. As an example, no strong evidence for photosynthesis was found above 45°C at pH ~2. In several locations, photosynthesis appears to be suppressed despite temperatures and pH values that permit photosynthesis elsewhere. Sulfide concentrations may be responsible for the suppression of photosynthesis at these sites. Total sulfide concentrations were observed to decrease downstream in hot spring outflow channels. Abiotic processes (degassing, oxidation, mineral precipitation, etc.) are too slow to account for these decreases, suggesting an explanation from microbial sulfide oxidation that is supported by field experiments. Microbial sulfide oxidation may determine the ultimate suitability of some hot springs for microbial photosynthesis.

    Original languageEnglish (US)
    Pages (from-to)344-351
    Number of pages8
    JournalChemical Geology
    Issue number3-4
    StatePublished - Jan 24 2011


    • Chemosynthesis
    • Hydrothermal ecosystem
    • Photosynthesis
    • Sulfide oxidation
    • Sulfide oxidation rate


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