Extracellular polymeric substances (EPS) are ubiquitous on tidal flats but their impact on sediment erosion has not been fully understood. Laboratory-controlled sediment beds were incubated with Bacillus subtilis for 5, 10, 16 and 22 days before the erosion experiments, to study the temporal and spatial variations in sediment stability caused by the bacterial secreted EPS. We found the bio-sedimentary systems showed different erosional behaviour related to biofilm maturity and EPS distribution. In the first stage (5 days), the bio-sedimentary bed was more easily eroded than the clean sediment. With increasing growth period, bound EPS became more widely distributed over the vertical profile resulting in bed stabilisation. After 22 days, the bound EPS was highly concentrated within a surface biofilm, but a relatively high content also extended to a depth of 5 mm and then decayed sharply with depth. The biofilm increased the critical shear stress of the bed and furthermore, it enabled the bed to withstand threshold conditions for an increased period of time as the biofilm degraded before eroding. After the loss of biofilm protection, the high EPS content in the sub-layers continued to stabilise the sediment (hindered erosion) by binding individual grains, as visualized by electron microscopy. Consequently, the bed strength did not immediately revert to the abiotic condition but progressively adjusted, reflecting the depth profile of the EPS. Our experiments highlight the need to treat the EPS-sediment conditioning as a bed-age associated and depth-dependent variable that should be included in the next generation of sediment transport models.
Architecture, Civil Engineering, Surveying