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unilogo Universität Stuttgart
Institute of Hydraulic Engineering


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Ecosystem Engineering: Sediment entrainment and flocculation mediated by microbial produced extracellular polymeric substances (EPS)
Project manager:Dr. rer.nat. Sabine Ulrike Gerbersdorf
Deputy:Prof. Dr.-Ing. Silke Wieprecht
Research assistants:Holger Schmidt, M.Sc.
Dipl.-Ing. Moritz Thom
Duration:1.6.2011 - 31.8.2015
Funding:Deutsche Forschungsgesellschaft (DFG)

This project is part of the research area:
Environmental Systems

MMM- Monitoring, Measuring and Modelling

Publications: Link



Sediment erosion and transport is critical to the ecological and commercial health of aquatic habitats from watershed to sea. There is now a consensus that microorganisms inhabiting the system mediate the erosive response of natural sediments (“ecosystem engineers”) along with physico-chemical properties. The biological mechanism is through secretion of a microbial organic glue (EPS: extracellular polymeric substances) that enhances binding forces between sediment grains to impact sediment stability and post-entrainment flocculation. The proposed work will elucidate the functional capability of heterotrophic bacteria, cyanobacteria and eukaryotic microalgae for mediating freshwater sediments to influence sediment erosion and transport. The potential and relevance of natural biofilms to provide this important “ecosystem service” will be investigated for different niches in a freshwater habitat. Thereby, variations of the EPS “quality ” and “quantity” to influence cohesion within sediments and flocs will be related to shifts in biofilm composition, sediment characteristics (e.g. organic background) and varying abiotic conditions (e.g. light, hydrodynamic regime) in the water body. Thus, the proposed interdisciplinary work will contribute to a conceptual understanding of microbial sediment engineering that represents an important ecosystem function in freshwater habitats. The research has wide implications for the water framework directive and sediment management strategies.