Active carbonate platforms provide modern analogs to study microbial-mat development and taphonomy in the sedimentary record. Microbial-mat descriptions and classifications for tropical tidal-flat environments have focused predominantly on morphological observations. This is exemplified by flat and biscuit-shaped mats, where the mat morphotypes are postulated to reflect different Cyanobacteria communities as the main mat-building taxa. To compare the total microbial communities of these two mat types and test this Cyanobacteria hypothesis, we applied optical microscopy and gene sequencing methods using samples from a tidal algal marsh on Little Ambergris Cay, Turks and Caicos, B.W.I. With gene sequencing we find that total diversity and community composition differs significantly between morphotypes; the biscuit mat is more diverse than the flat mat. Microscopy results support that Cyanobacteria populations colonizing the surface layer of these two mat types are responsible for much of the mat's structural elements; however, genetic data find the Cyanobacteria population is indistinguishable between the two mat types. The recovered Cyanobacteria populations fall predominantly into three taxa: Scytonema, Halomicronema, and Crinalium.We propose that the morphology of these two mat types is not controlled by the Cyanobacteria, but instead reflects a time-integrated microbial response to environmental factors, where the microbial community becomes more diverse with time since environmental disturbance.
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