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Biodegradation of Emiliania huxleyi aggregates by a natural Mediterranean prokaryotic community under increasing hydrostatic pressure

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Virginie Riou, b, Julien Para, Marc Garel, Catherine Guigue, Badr Al Ali, Chiara Santinelli, Dominique Lefèvre, Jean-Pierre Gattuso, , Madeleine Goutx, Stéphanie Jacquet, Frédéric A.C. Le Moigne, Kazuyo Tachikawa, Christian Tamburini


In the deep ocean, fluxes of particulate organic carbon (POC) and calcium carbonate are positively correlated, suggesting that CaCO3 could increase sinking particle densities and/or protect the organic matter from degradation by prokaryotes, the so called “ballast effect”. Here, we used the PArticle Sinking Simulator (PASS) system to investigate the effect of increasing pressure on the biodegradation of calcifying Emiliania huxleyi aggregates. Incubations were carried out over a period of 10 days, simulating the changes in temperature and pressure in the water column of the NW Mediterranean Sea. Aggregates sinking from a depth of 200 m to 1700 m (assuming an average sinking velocity of 150 m d−1) were exposed to a natural mesopelagic prokaryotic community collected from 200 m. In contrast to previous studies, where silicifying diatom aggregates were used, the calcifying E. huxleyi aggregates were found to be more sensitive to degradation with increasing hydrostatic pressure (relative to constant atmospheric pressure). This was confirmed by changes in lipid composition which suggested increased cell lysis. Changes in particulate inorganic carbon and total alkalinity indicated that CaCO3 dissolution might have been faster under pressure. Increased hydrostatic pressure also had a positive effect on particle aggregation, which may compensate for the effect of increased cell lysis. Our results imply that in coccolithophorid-dominated sinking aggregates, the ballasting and protection effects of coccoliths may collapse throughout the water column. The increased aggregation potential with pressure observed in these controlled conditions, may balance the loss of mineral ballast to a certain extent, although this needs to be confirmed in situ.

Biological carbon pump ; Mesopelagic ; Mineral ballast ; Coccolithophorid ; Prokaryotes ; Biodegradation ; Hydrostatic pressure