Jet-suspended, calcite-ballasted cyanobacterial waterwarts in a desert spring

Ferran Garcia-Pichel, Brian D. Wade, Jack Farmer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


We describe a population of colonial cyanobacteria (waterwarts) that develops as the dominant primary producer in a bottom-fed, O2-poor, warm spring in the Cuatro Ciénegas karstic region of the Mexican Chihuahuan Desert. The centimeter-sized waterwarts were suspended within a central, conically shaped, 6-m deep well by upwelling waters. Waterwarts were built by an Aphanothece-like unicellular cyanobacterium and supported a community of epiphytic filamentous cyanobacteria and diatoms but were free of heterotrophic bacteria inside. Sequence analysis of 16S rRNA genes revealed that this cyanobacterium is only distantly related to several strains of other unicellular cyanobacteria (Merismopedia, Cyanothece, Microcystis). Waterwarts contained orderly arrangements of mineral crystallites, made up of microcrystalline low-magnesium calcite with high levels of strontium and sulfur. Waterwarts were 95.9% (v/v) glycan, 2.8% cells, and 1.3% mineral grains and had a buoyant density of 1.034 kg·L-1. An analysis of the hydrological properties of the spring well and the waterwarts demonstrated that both large colony size and the presence of controlled amounts of mineral ballast are required to prevent the population from being washed out of the well. The unique hydrological characteristics of the spring have likely selected for both traits. The mechanisms by which controlled nucleation of extracellular calcite is achieved remain to be explored.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)420-428
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Phycology
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2002


  • Buoyancy
  • Calcite precipitation
  • Colony formation
  • Cyanobacteria
  • Deserts
  • Warm springs

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Aquatic Science
  • Plant Science


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