Macrofauna regulate heterotrophic bacterial carbon and nitrogen incorporation in low-oxygen sediments

William R. Hunter*, Bart Veuger, Ursula Witte

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Citations (Scopus)


Oxygen minimum zones (OMZs) currently impinge upon >1 million km(2) of sea floor and are predicted to expand with climate change. We investigated how changes in oxygen availability, macrofaunal biomass and retention of labile organic matter (OM) regulate heterotrophic bacterial C and N incorporation in the sediments of the OMZ-impacted Indian continental margin (540-1100 m; [O-2] = 0.35-15 mu mol l(-1)). In situ pulse-chase experiments traced C-13:N-15-labelled phytodetritus into bulk sediment OM and hydrolysable amino acids, including the bacterial biomarker D-alanine. Where oxygen availability was lowest ([O-2] = 0.35 mu mol l(-1)), metazoan macrofauna were absent and bacteria assimilated 30-90% of the labelled phytodetritus within the sediment. At higher oxygen levels ([O-2] = 2-15 mu mol l(-1)) the macrofaunal presence and lower phytodetritus retention with the sediment occur concomitantly, and bacterial phytodetrital incorporation was reduced and retarded. Bacterial C and N incorporation exhibited a significant negative relationship with macrofaunal biomass across the OMZ. We hypothesise that fauna-bacterial interactions significantly influence OM recycling in low-oxygen sediments and need to be considered when assessing the consequences of global change on biogeochemical cycles. The ISME Journal (2012) 6, 2140-2151; doi:10.1038/ismej.2012.44; published online 17 May 2012

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2140-2151
Number of pages12
JournalThe ISME Journal
Issue number11
Early online date17 May 2012
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2012


  • D-alanine
  • organic-matter
  • amino-acids
  • intertidal sediment
  • macrofauna
  • in-situ
  • sediment
  • hydrolysable amino acids
  • microbial ecology
  • C:N coupling
  • oxygen minimum zone
  • bacteria
  • deep-sea sediments
  • Arabian Sea
  • minimum zone
  • N-15 incorporation


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