Thanks to their often very high population densities and their simple community structure, saltern crystallizer ponds form ideal sites to study the behavior of halophilic microorganisms in their natural environment at saturating salt concentrations. The microbial community is dominated by square red halophilic Archaea, recently isolated and described as Haloquadratum walsbyi, extremely halophilic red rod-shaped Bacteria of the genus Salinibacter, and the unicellular green alga Dunaliella as the primary producer. We review here, the information available on the microbial community structure of the saltern crystallizer brines and the interrelationships between the main components of their biota. As Dunaliella produces massive amounts of glycerol to provide osmotic stabilization, glycerol is often postulated to be the most important source of organic carbon for the heterotrophic prokaryotes in hypersaline ecosystems. We assess here, the current evidence for the possible importance of glycerol and other carbon sources in the nutrition of the Archaea and the Bacteria, the relative contribution of halophilic Bacteria and Archaea to the heterotrophic activity in the brines, and other factors that determine the nature of the microbial communities that thrive in the salt-saturated brines of saltern crystallizer ponds.
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Acknowledgments Our work on the salterns in Eilat has been supported by the Israel Science Foundation (grant no. 504/03). We thank the Israel Salt Company in Eilat, Israel, for allowing access to the salterns, and the staff of the Interuniversity Institute for Marine Sciences of Eilat, for logistic support.