CIE Spotlight: Sediment microbes mediate the impact of nutrient loading on blue carbon sequestration by mixed seagrass meadows

Pic by James St. John

Authors: Liu, Songlin; Jiang, Zhijian; Zhang, Jingping; Wu, Yunchao; Huang, Xiaoping; Macreadie, Peter I.

Source: SCIENCE OF THE TOTAL ENVIRONMENT, 599 1479-1484, DEC 1 2017

Brief summary of the paper: Recent studies have reported significant variability in sediment organic carbon (SOC) storage capacity among seagrass species, but the factors driving this variability are poorly understood, limiting our ability to make informed decisions about which seagrass types are optimal for carbon offsetting and why.

Here we show that differences in SOC storage capacity among species within the same geomorphic environment can be explained (in part) by below-ground processes in response to nutrient load; specifically, differences in the activity of microbes harboured by morphologically-different seagrass species.

We found that increasing nutrient load enhanced the relative contribution of seagrass and algal sources to SOC pools, boosting sediment microbial biomass and extracellular enzyme activity within mixed seagrass meadows composed of Thalassia hemprichii and Enhalus acoroides, and thus possibly weaken the seagrass blue carbon sequestration capacity. The relative contribution of seagrass plant material to sediment bacterial organic carbon (BOC) and the influencing SOC-decomposing enzymes in E. acoroides meadows were half that of T. hemprichii meadows living side-by-side, even though the mixed seagrass meadows received SOC from the same sources.

Overall this research suggests that microbial activity can vary significantly among seagrass species, thereby causing fine-scale (within-meadow) variability in SOC sequestration capacity in response to nutrient load.