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Initial microaggregate formation: Association of microorganisms to montmorillonite-goethite aggregates under wetting and drying cycles

Krause, Lars, Biesgen, Danh, Treder, Aaron, Schweizer, Steffen A., Klumpp, Erwin, Knief, Claudia, Siebers, Nina
Geoderma 2019 v.351 pp. 250-260
Pseudomonas protegens, bacteria, bacterial colonization, drying, environmental factors, goethite, microaggregates, montmorillonite, mutants, polymers, survival rate, wet-dry cycles
There is an intimate relationship between microorganisms and the formation and stability of soil microaggregates, realized by the immobilization and occlusion of microorganisms. Little is known about the initial aggregate formation phase and the role of microorganisms in this process under the impact of environmental changes such as wetting and drying. We investigated this initial aggregate formation process of montmorillonite and goethite in combination with two bacterial strains, Pseudomonas protegens strain CHA0 and Gordonia alkanivorans strain MoAcy 2, in the presence or absence of stress conditions in form of wetting and drying cycles for up to eight days. Montmorillonite and goethite formed microaggregates instantaneously, the size of these aggregates being enhanced in the presence of microorganisms, resulting in up to twofold larger aggregates. This increase in aggregate size was strain-dependent. However, the aggregates that developed during the first 48 h broke into smaller structures later on. A microscopic analysis of the microaggregates revealed that notably the larger microaggregates harbored bacteria and that microaggregates had a sheltering effect on living cells, especially when exposed to desiccation stress. Additionally, aggregate formation was analyzed in the presence of a Pseudomonas protegens mutant strain (CHA211) with increased production capability of extracellular polymeric substances (EPS). About fivefold higher survival rates of culturable cells were observed after desiccation for this EPS overproducing mutant strain in comparison to the wild-type. Our results hint at an aggregate formation process characterized by a rapid occlusion of mineral compounds, and, after the addition of microorganisms, the bacterial colonization of small microaggregates, leading to an increase in aggregate size. The further development of the aggregate size distribution varied depending on the presence of microbial taxa and was modulated by environmental conditions like desiccation events.