Reconstruction of the biogeochemistry and ecology of photoautotrophs based on the nitrogen and carbon isotopic compositions of vanadyl porphyrins from Miocene siliceous sediments
Abstract. We determined both the nitrogen and carbon isotopic compositions of various vanadyl alkylporphyrins isolated from siliceous marine sediments of the Onnagawa Formation (middle Miocene, northeastern Japan) to investigate the biogeochemistry and ecology of photoautotrophs living in the paleo-ocean. The distinctive isotopic signals support the interpretations of previous works that the origin of 17-nor-deoxophylloerythroetioporphyrin (DPEP) is chlorophylls-c1-3, whereas 8-nor-DPEP may have originated from chlorophylls-a2 or b2 or bacteriochlorophyll-a. Although DPEP and cycloheptanoDPEP are presumably derived from common precursory pigments, their isotopic compositions differed in the present study, suggesting that the latter represents a specific population within the photoautotrophic community. The average δ15N value for the entire photoautotrophic community is estimated to be –2 to +1‰ from the δ15N values of DPEP (–6.9 to –3.6‰; n=7), considering that the empirical isotopic relationships that the tetrapyrrole nuclei of chloropigments are depleted in 15N by ~4.8‰ and enriched in 13C by ~1.8‰ relative to the whole cells. This finding suggests that nitrogen utilized in the primary production was supplied mainly through N2-fixation by diazotrophic cyanobacteria. Based on the δ13C values of DPEP (–17.9 to –15.6‰; n=7), we estimated isotopic fractionation associated with photosynthetic carbon fixation to be 8–14‰. This range suggests the importance of β-carboxylation and/or active transport of the carbon substrate, indicating in turn the substantial contribution of diazotrophic cyanobacteria to primary production. Based on the δ15N values of 17-nor-DPEP (–7.4 to –2.4‰ n=7), the δ15N range of chlorophylls-c-producing algae was estimated to be –3 to +3‰. This relative depletion in sup>15N suggests that these algae mainly utilized nitrogen regenerated from diazotrophic cyanobacteria. Given that diatoms are likely to have constituted the chlorophylls-c-producing algae within the biogenic-silica-rich Onnagawa Formation, cyanobacteria-hosting diatoms may have been important contributors to primary production.