Fresh carbon inputs to seagrass sediments induce variable microbial priming responses

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Journal Article
Science of the Total Environment, 2018, 621 pp. 663 - 669
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© 2017 Elsevier B.V. Microbes are the ‘gatekeepers’ of the marine carbon cycle, yet the mechanisms for how microbial metabolism drives carbon sequestration in coastal ecosystems are still being defined. The proximity of coastal habitats to runoff and disturbance creates ideal conditions for microbial priming, i.e., the enhanced remineralisation of stored carbon in response to fresh substrate availability and oxygen introduction. Microbial priming, therefore, poses a risk for enhanced CO2 release in these carbon sequestration hotspots. Here we quantified the existence of priming in seagrass sediments and showed that the addition of fresh carbon stimulated a 1.7- to 2.7-fold increase in CO2 release from recent and accumulated carbon deposits. We propose that priming taking place at the sediment surface is a natural occurrence and can be minimised by the recalcitrant components of the fresh inputs (i.e., lignocellulose) and by reduced metabolism in low oxygen and high burial rate conditions. Conversely, priming of deep sediments after the reintroduction to the water column through physical disturbances (e.g., dredging, boat scars) would cause rapid remineralisation of previously preserved carbon. Microbial priming is identified as a process that weakens sediment carbon storage capacity and is a pathway to CO2 release in disturbed or degraded seagrass ecosystems; however, increased management and restoration practices can reduce these anthropogenic disturbances and enhance carbon sequestration capacity.
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