The influence of bacterial communities on the formation of carbonate deposits such as moonmilk was investigated in Altamira Cave (Spain). The study focuses on the relationship between the bacterial communities at moonmilk deposits and those forming white colonizations, which develop sporadically throughout the cave. Using molecular fingerprinting of the metabolically active bacterial communities detected through RNA analyses, the development of white colonizations and moonmilk deposits showed similar bacterial profiles. White colonizations were able to raise the pH as a result of their metabolism (reaching in situ pH values above 8.5), which was proportional to the nutrient supply. Bacterial activity was analyzed by nanorespirometry showing higher metabolic activity from bacterial colonizations than uncolonized areas. Once carbonate deposits were formed, bacterial activity decreased drastically (down to 5.7% of the white colonization activity). This study reports on a specific type of bacterial community leading to moonmilk deposit formation in a cave environment as a result of bacterial metabolism. The consequence of this process is a macroscopic phenomenon of visible carbonate depositions and accumulation in cave environments.
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