We studied the migration of cyanobacteria in desert crusts from Las Bárdenas Reales (Spain). The crusts were almost exclusively colonized by the filamentous cyanobacterium Oscillatoria, which formed a dense layer approximately 600 μm thick located between 1.5 and 2.1 mm deep. Laboratory and field experiments showed that saturation of the crust with liquid water induced a migration of the cyanobacteria leading to a significant greening of the surface within a few minutes. Under light and rapid evaporation, the green color rapidly disappeared and the crust surface was completely devoid of filaments within 60 min. In contrast, 260 min was required to recover the original white color of the crust when slow evaporation was experimentally imposed. The up and down migration following wetting and drying occurred also in the dark. This demonstrates that light was not a required stimulus. Addition of ATP synthesis inhibitors prevented the cyanobacterium from migrating down into the crust, with filaments remaining on the surface. Therefore, the disappearance of the green color observed during desiccation can only be attributed to an active cyanobacterial motility response to the decrease in the water content. The simplest explanation that can account for the evidence gathered is the presence of a mechanism that links, directly or indirectly, these motility responses to gradients in water content, namely a form of hydrotaxis.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
- Soil Science