When you’re thinking of living thing sin a lake, you’re most certainly thinking of fish, leeches, perhaps toads and frogs, the usual fresh water fauna. What you’re probably not thinking of is large rock-like masses of bacteria and microbes. That’s right, as it turns out, Utah’s Great Salt Lake contains scores of living rocks.
The microbial bioherms in all their glory
Bonnie Baxter, from the Westminster College, has been studying Utah’s Great Salt Lake for a while, and she came upon a very important discovery once this year’s draught reduced the lake’s volume enough.
What she found was that Utah’s Great Salt Lake contains scores of living rocks, or microbial bioherms, which are basically small communities of microbes and bacteria.
The microbialites, or the microbial bioherms are usually formed by bacteria in a hypersalinated shallow body of water. They take the form of rough ragged rocks, which are coated in a black gelatinous muck.
They are the home to colonies of microorganisms, and nobody is sure which of the tiny creatures are responsible for the creation of the rocks, and which are just living there.
According to Baxter, under Utah’s Great Salt Lake lies the biggest collection of microbial bioherms in the world, allowing for a very interesting glimpse into Earth’s early days.
The rocks are so important because they are actual rocks, generated by bacteria and microbes. They are the place where geology and biology come together.
Additionally, so much remains unknown about the microbialites that scientists are still unsure of what to call them, or even if they should divide them by type.
The microbialites’ importance in the ecosystem
The reason why I said that the microorganisms offer a glimpse into Earth’s prehistory is because the types of bacteria encountered in the rocks are ancient, the types that were present here before pretty much any other life forms, the type of bacteria that were responsible for filling out planet with oxygen.
Also, they are the perfect habitat for a special type of fly, which pupates there, and the pupas are the food source of a number of rare birds.
Additionally, they are probably the only rocks in the world that can and do employ photosynthesis is order to maintain their own little self-sufficient habitat.
The microbes in the rocks are also a huge factor in the production of salt in the lake, the Great Salt Lake’s main resource.
Image source: Wikimedia