Natural-abundance radiocarbon as a tracer of assimilation of petroleum carbon by bacteria in salt marsh sediments
Wakeham, Stuart G.
McNichol, Ann P.
Kostka, Joel E.
Pease, Tamara K.
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The natural abundance of radiocarbon (14C) provides unique insight into the source and cycling of sedimentary organic matter. Radiocarbon analysis of bacterial phospholipid lipid fatty acids (PLFAs) in salt-marsh sediments of southeast Georgia (USA) – one heavily contaminated by petroleum residues – was used to assess the fate of petroleum-derived carbon in sediments and incorporation of fossil carbon into microbial biomass. PLFAs that are common components of eubacterial cell membranes (e.g., branched C15 and C17, 10-methyl-C16) were depleted in 14C in the contaminated sediment (mean Δ14C value of +25 ± 19 ‰ for bacterial PLFAs) relative to PLFAs in uncontaminated “control” sediment (Δ14C = +101 ± 12‰). We suggest that the 14C-depletion in bacterial PLFAs at the contaminated site results from microbial metabolism of petroleum and subsequent incorporation of petroleum-derived carbon into bacterial membrane lipids. A mass balance calculation indicates that 6-10% of the carbon in bacterial PLFAs at the oiled site could derive from petroleum residues. These results demonstrate that even weathered petroleum may contain components of sufficient lability to be a carbon source for biomass production by marsh sediment microorganisms. Furthermore, a small but significant fraction of fossil carbon is assimilated even in the presence of a much larger pool of presumably more-labile and faster-cycling carbon substrates.
Author Posting. © The Authors, 2005. This is the author's version of the work. It is posted here by permission of Elsevier B.V. for personal use, not for redistribution. The definitive version was published in Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta 70 (2006): 1761-1771, doi:10.1016/j.gca.2005.12.020.