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Science of The Total Environment
Volume 779, 2021, 146233

Depth profiles of geochemical features, geochemical activities and biodiversity of microbial communities in marine sediments from the Shenhu area, the northern South China Sea

Kong Yuana, Lei Huaiyana, Zhang Ziliana, Cheng Weidonga, Wang Bina, Pan Fulonga, Huang Fanfana, Huang Fanlia, Li Wenqingb

Department of Geological Oceanography, College of Ocean & Earth Science, Xiamen University, Xiamen 361102, PR China.

Abstract

The biogeochemical processes, anaerobic oxidation of methane (AOM) and methanogenesis, control methane emission and create distinct geochemical profiles with depth in marine sediments. Correlating the capacities and biodiversity of the microbial communities in marine sediments remains challenging. We therefore investigated the geochemical constituents and the capabilities and diversity of microbial communities in sediments at different depths in two cores from the Shenhu area in the northern South China Sea, which is characterized by underlying gas hydrates. The geochemical features, sulfate concentration decreased linearly and the acid volatile sulfur accumulated from 4 m below the seafloor (mbsf) to the bottom, indicating significant sulfate reduction. However, the methane concentration was relatively low and showed irregular trends, indicating that our study cores did not reach the sulfate-methane transition zone (SMTZ). Nevertheless, incubation experiments showed that the microbial groups in sediments performed AOM and methanogenesis in the region where sulfate decreased linearly above the SMTZ. We mapped the diversity and abundance of microbial communities in sediments with depth using high-throughput sequencing. A small proportion of known methanogens (<0.3%) may have been responsible for the methanogenesis during incubation. No classical archaeal anaerobic methanotroph (ANME) sequences were detected across all samples; only a small amount of SEEP-SRB1 were detected, and their abundance did not increase with increasing depth. Thus, unknown or unconventional phylotypes may have participated in AOM during the incubation, and the dominant phylum Bathyarchaeota or the small number of detected methanogens are the most likely performers of AOM.

Keywords: Anaerobic oxidation of methane, Methanogenesis, Microbial community, 16S rRNA, Geochemistry, South China Sea.

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