Articles | Volume 11, issue 14
Biogeosciences, 11, 3887–3898, 2014

Special issue: The impact of anthropogenic perturbations on open ocean carbon...

Biogeosciences, 11, 3887–3898, 2014

Reviews and syntheses 24 Jul 2014

Reviews and syntheses | 24 Jul 2014

Perspectives on the microbial carbon pump with special reference to microbial respiration and ecosystem efficiency in large estuarine systems

H. Dang1,2 and N. Jiao1,2 H. Dang and N. Jiao
  • 1State Key Laboratory of Marine Environmental Sciences, Xiamen University, Xiamen 361005, China
  • 2Joint Research Center for Carbon Sink at the Institute of Marine Microbes and Ecospheres, Xiamen University and the Qingdao Institute of BioEnergy and Bioprocess Technology, CAS, Qingdao 266101, China

Abstract. Although respiration-based oxidation of reduced carbon releases CO2 into the environment, it provides an ecosystem with the metabolic energy for essential biogeochemical processes, including the newly proposed microbial carbon pump (MCP). The efficiency of MCP in heterotrophic microorganisms is related to the mechanisms of energy transduction employed and hence is related to the form of respiration utilized. Anaerobic organisms typically have lower efficiencies of energy transduction and hence lower efficiencies of energy-dependent carbon transformation. This leads to a lower MCP efficiency on a per-cell basis. Substantial input of terrigenous nutrients and organic matter into estuarine ecosystems typically results in elevated heterotrophic respiration that rapidly consumes dissolved oxygen, potentially producing hypoxic and anoxic zones in the water column. The lowered availability of dissolved oxygen and the excessive supply of nutrients such as nitrate from river discharge lead to enhanced anaerobic respiration processes such as denitrification and dissimilatory nitrate reduction to ammonium. Thus, some nutrients may be consumed through anaerobic heterotrophs, instead of being utilized by phytoplankton for autotrophic carbon fixation. In this manner, eutrophied estuarine ecosystems become largely fueled by anaerobic respiratory pathways and their efficiency is less due to lowered ecosystem productivity when compared to healthy and balanced estuarine ecosystems. This situation may have a negative impact on the ecological function and efficiency of the MCP which depends on the supply of both organic carbon and metabolic energy. This review presents our current understanding of the MCP mechanisms from the view point of ecosystem energy transduction efficiency, which has not been discussed in previous literature.

Final-revised paper