Chemoautotrophic carbon fixation rates and active bacterial communities in intertidal marine sediments

PLoS One. 2014 Jul 8;9(7):e101443. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0101443. eCollection 2014.


Chemoautotrophy has been little studied in typical coastal marine sediments, but may be an important component of carbon recycling as intense anaerobic mineralization processes in these sediments lead to accumulation of high amounts of reduced compounds, such as sulfides and ammonium. We studied chemoautotrophy by measuring dark-fixation of 13C-bicarbonate into phospholipid derived fatty acid (PLFA) biomarkers at two coastal sediment sites with contrasting sulfur chemistry in the Eastern Scheldt estuary, The Netherlands. At one site where free sulfide accumulated in the pore water right to the top of the sediment, PLFA labeling was restricted to compounds typically found in sulfur and ammonium oxidizing bacteria. At the other site, with no detectable free sulfide in the pore water, a very different PLFA labeling pattern was found with high amounts of label in branched i- and a-PLFA besides the typical compounds for sulfur and ammonium oxidizing bacteria. This suggests that other types of chemoautotrophic bacteria were also active, most likely Deltaproteobacteria related to sulfate reducers. Maximum rates of chemoautotrophy were detected in first 1 to 2 centimeters of both sediments and chemosynthetic biomass production was high ranging from 3 to 36 mmol C m(-2) d(-1). Average dark carbon fixation to sediment oxygen uptake ratios were 0.22±0.07 mol C (mol O2)(-1), which is in the range of the maximum growth yields reported for sulfur oxidizing bacteria indicating highly efficient growth. Chemoautotrophic biomass production was similar to carbon mineralization rates in the top of the free sulfide site, suggesting that chemoautotrophic bacteria could play a crucial role in the microbial food web and labeling in eukaryotic poly-unsaturated PLFA was indeed detectable. Our study shows that dark carbon fixation by chemoautotrophic bacteria is a major process in the carbon cycle of coastal sediments, and should therefore receive more attention in future studies on sediment biogeochemistry and microbial ecology.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Bacteria* / classification
  • Bacteria* / genetics
  • Biodiversity
  • Carbon / chemistry*
  • Geologic Sediments / chemistry*
  • Geologic Sediments / microbiology*
  • Metagenome
  • Microbiota*
  • Netherlands
  • Oxygen / chemistry
  • Phylogeny


  • Carbon
  • Oxygen

Grant support

This work was supported by the following grants: Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research (NWO) VIDI grant number 864.04.009 to HTSB, Darwin Center for Biogeosciences grant number 142.16.3061 to HTSB, and ESF grant number 855.01.130. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.