Natural-abundance radiocarbon as a tracer of assimilation of petroleum carbon by bacteria in salt marsh sediments

TitleNatural-abundance radiocarbon as a tracer of assimilation of petroleum carbon by bacteria in salt marsh sediments
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2006
AuthorsWakeham, SG, McNichol, AP, Kostka, JE, Pease, TK
JournalGeochimica Et Cosmochimica Acta
Date PublishedApr 1
Accession NumberWOS:000236644000013

The natural abundance of radiocarbon ((14)C) 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 C(15) and C(17), 10-methyl-C(16)) were depleted in (14)C in the contaminated sediment (mean Delta(14)C value of +25 +/- 19 parts per thousand for bacterial PLFAs) relative to PLFAs in uncontaminated "control" sediment (Delta(14)C = +101 +/- 12 parts per thousand). We suggest that the (14)C-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. (c) 2006 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.