The effect of cyclic variation of shear stress on non-cohesive sediment stabilization by microbial biofilms: the role of ‘biofilm precursors’

Xindi Chen, Changkuan Zhang, David M. Paterson, Ian H. Townend, Chuang Jin, Zeng Zhou, Zheng Gong*, Qian Feng

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Citations (Scopus)
6 Downloads (Pure)


Biofilm mediated intertidal sediments exhibit more complex erosional behaviour than abiotic systems. A major feature of intertidal systems is the exposure to repeated cycles of high and low shear created by tidal conditions and also less predictable episodic events, such as storms. There is very little information on how biofilm-forming communities respond to these conditions. In this study, the effects of both single and repeated-cycles of shear on the stability of newly developed bio-sedimentary beds was examined. Cleaned sand, without any potential biostabilization, was used as the control. For the single-cycle scenario, biofilms were incubated on a non-cohesive sandy bed under prolonged low shear periods varying between 5 and 22 days, after which erosional stress was applied. No significant biostabilization was observed for the youngest bio-sedimentary bed (after five days of low shear incubation). After 22 days, microbial communities were characterized by a firmly attached surface biofilm. To cause erosion, greater hydrodynamic stress (0.28 Pa) was required. The erosional behaviour of the underlying sand was also affected in that bedform ripples noted in the control system were no longer observed. Instead, a sudden ‘mass erosion’ took place (0.33 Pa). The one-cycle scenario indicated that significant biostabilization of sand only occurred after a relative long calm period. Under repeated cycles of stress (five days of low stress followed by high stress event and re-incubation, repeated for four cycles = 20 days), frequent cyclic disturbance did not degrade the system stability but enhanced biostabilization. The properties of the sub-surface sediments were also affected where erosion rates were further inhibited. We hypothesize that organic material eroded from the bed acted as a ‘biofilm precursor’ supporting the development of new biofilm growth. A conceptual framework is presented to highlight the dynamics of bio-sedimentary beds and the effects of growth history under repeated-cycles.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages11
JournalEarth Surface Processes and Landforms
VolumeEarly View
Early online date1 Feb 2019
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2019


  • Biostabilisation
  • Biofilm detachment
  • Sediment erosion
  • Biofilm regrowth
  • Bio-sedimentary system


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