The Atlantic hurricanes of 1999 caused widespread environmental damage throughout the Caribbean and US mid-Atlantic coastal regions. However, these storms also proved beneficial to certain microbial habitats; specifically, cyanobacteria-dominated mats. Modern mats represent the oldest known biological communities on earth, stromatolites. Contemporary mats are dominant biological communities in the hypersaline Bahamian lakes along the Atlantic hurricane track. We examined the impacts of varying levels of hypersalinity on 2 processes controlling mat growth, photosynthesis and nitrogen fixation, in Salt Pond, San Salvador Island, Bahamas. Hypersalinity (> 5 times sea-water salinity) proved highly inhibitory to these processes. Freshwater input from Hurricane Floyd and other large storms alleviated this salt-inhibition. A predicted 10 to 40 year increase in Atlantic hurricane activity accompanied by more frequent “freshening” events will enhance mat productivity, CO2 sequestration and nutrient cycling. Cyanobacterial mats are sensitive short- and long-term indicators of climatic and ecological changes impacting these and other waterstressed environments.
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Vol. 32 • No. 2