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Title: Direct observations of microbial community succession on sinking marine particles

Microbial community dynamics on sinking particles control the amount of carbon that reaches the deep ocean and the length of time that carbon is stored, with potentially profound impacts on Earth’s climate. A mechanistic understanding of the controls on sinking particle distributions has been hindered by limited depth- and time-resolved sampling and methods that cannot distinguish individual particles. Here, we analyze microbial communities on nearly 400 individual sinking particles in conjunction with more conventional composite particle samples to determine how particle colonization and community assembly might control carbon sequestration in the deep ocean. We observed community succession with corresponding changes in microbial metabolic potential on the larger sinking particles transporting a significant fraction of carbon to the deep sea. Microbial community richness decreased as particles aged and sank; however, richness increased with particle size and the attenuation of carbon export. This suggests that the theory of island biogeography applies to sinking marine particles. Changes in POC flux attenuation with time and microbial community composition with depth were reproduced in a mechanistic ecosystem model that reflected a range of POC labilities and microbial growth rates. Our results highlight microbial community dynamics and processes on individual sinking particles, the isolation of which is necessary to improve mechanistic models of ocean carbon uptake.

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Author(s) / Creator(s):
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Publisher / Repository:
Oxford University Press
Date Published:
Journal Name:
The ISME Journal
Medium: X
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
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