Abundance and Biogeochemical Impact of Cable Bacteria in Baltic Sea Sediments

Martijn Hermans, Wytze K. Lenstra, Silvia Hidalgo-Martinez, Niels A.G.M. van Helmond, Rob Witbaard, Filip J.R. Meysman, Santiago Gonzalez, Caroline P. Slomp

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Oxygen depletion in coastal waters may lead to release of toxic sulfide from sediments. Cable bacteria can limit sulfide release by promoting iron oxide formation in sediments. Currently, it is unknown how widespread this phenomenon is. Here, we assess the abundance, activity, and biogeochemical impact of cable bacteria at 12 Baltic Sea sites. Cable bacteria were mostly absent in sediments overlain by anoxic and sulfidic bottom waters, emphasizing their dependence on oxygen or nitrate as electron acceptors. At sites that were temporarily reoxygenated, cable bacterial densities were low. At seasonally hypoxic sites, cable bacterial densities correlated linearly with the supply of sulfide. The highest densities were observed at Gulf of Finland sites with high rates of sulfate reduction. Microelectrode profiles of sulfide, oxygen, and pH indicated low or no in situ cable bacteria activity at all sites. Reactivation occurred within 5 days upon incubation of an intact sediment core from the Gulf of Finland with aerated overlying water. We found no relationship between cable bacterial densities and macrofaunal abundances, salinity, or sediment organic carbon. Our geochemical data suggest that cable bacteria promote conversion of iron monosulfides to iron oxides in the Gulf of Finland in spring, possibly explaining why bottom waters in this highly eutrophic region rarely contain sulfide in summer.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)7494-7503
Number of pages10
JournalEnvironmental Science & Technology
Issue number13
Publication statusPublished - 2019


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