Cryptic oxygen cycling in anoxic marine zones [Environmental Sciences]
Oxygen availability drives changes in microbial diversity and biogeochemical cycling between the aerobic surface layer and the anaerobic core in nitrite-rich anoxic marine zones (AMZs), which constitute huge oxygen-depleted regions in the tropical oceans. The current paradigm is that primary production and nitrification within the oxic surface layer fuel anaerobic processes in the anoxic core of AMZs, where 30–50% of global marine nitrogen loss takes place. Here we demonstrate that oxygenic photosynthesis in the secondary chlorophyll maximum (SCM) releases significant amounts of O2 to the otherwise anoxic environment. The SCM, commonly found within AMZs, was dominated by the picocyanobacteria Prochlorococcus spp. Free O2 levels in this layer were, however, undetectable by conventional techniques, reflecting a tight coupling between O2 production and consumption by aerobic processes under apparent anoxic conditions. Transcriptomic analysis of the microbial community in the seemingly anoxic SCM revealed the enhanced expression of genes for aerobic processes, such as nitrite oxidation. The rates of gross O2 production and carbon fixation in the SCM were found to be similar to those reported for nitrite oxidation, as well as for anaerobic dissimilatory nitrate reduction and sulfate reduction, suggesting a significant effect of local oxygenic photosynthesis on Pacific AMZ biogeochemical cycling.
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