, Volume 102, Issue 1–3, pp 167–181 | Cite as

The influence of phototrophic benthic biofilms on Cd, Cu, Ni, and Pb transport in permeable sediments

  • Aaron J. Beck
  • Felix Janssen
  • Dirk de Beer


The effect of phototrophic biofilm activity on advective transport of cadmium (Cd), copper (Cu), nickel (Ni), and lead (Pb) in sandy sediments was examined using percolated columns. Cd and Ni in the effluent exhibited clear diel cycles in biofilm-containing columns, with concentrations at the end of dark periods exceeding those during illumination by up to 4.5- and 10-fold for Ni and Cd, respectively. Similar cycles were not observed for Pb or Cu. Breakthrough of the latter metals was greatly retarded and incomplete relative to Cd and Ni, and trends in biofilm treatments did not differ greatly from those in control columns. Inhibition of photosystem II by DCMU (3-(3,4-dichlorophenyl)-1,1-dimethylurea) proved that diel cycles of Cd and Ni were controlled by oxygenic photosynthesis, and microsensor measurements showed that metal cycles closely matched metabolic activity-driven pH variations. The sorption edge pH for the sand/biofilm substrate followed the order Ni > Cd > Cu > Pb, and for Ni and Cd, was within the pH 7–10 range observed in the biofilm-containing column. Adsorption dynamics over the light periods matched pH increases, but desorption during dark periods was incomplete and slower than the rate of change of pH. Over a diel cycle, desorption was less than adsorption, resulting in net binding of dissolved metals due to the biofilm metabolic activity. Extraction with selective reagents indicated that the adsorbed metals were readily exchangeable, and potentially bioavailable. Thus, phototrophic benthic biofilms can control the transport of some metals across the sand–water interface, and processes in this very thin surficial layer should be considered when evaluating chemical fluxes in permeable sediments.


Benthic biofilm Permeable sediments Trace metals Diel cycles Advection Submarine groundwater discharge Subterranean estuary 



Funding for this study was provided by the ECODIS project (European Commission’s 6th framework program, subpriority 6.3 “Global Change and Ecosystems,” under contract 518043). We greatly appreciate assistance with microsensor construction from the Microsensor Group technicians: I. Dohrmann, G. Eickert, K. Hohmann, A. Niclas, I. Schröder, and C. Wiegand. We also wish to thank Silvana Pape (U. Bremen) for ICP-OES assistance. This manuscript benefitted from comments by two anonymous reviewers.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Microsensor GroupMax-Planck-Institute for Marine MicrobiologyBremenGermany
  2. 2.Virginia Institute of Marine Science, College of William and MaryVAUSA

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