Journal article

Surviving anoxia in marine sediments: The metabolic response of ubiquitous benthic foraminifera (Ammonia tepida)

High input of organic carbon and/or slowly renewing bottom waters frequently create periods with low dissolved oxygen concentrations on continental shelves and in coastal areas; such events can have strong impacts on benthic ecosystems. Among the meiofauna living in these environments, benthic foraminifera are often the most tolerant to low oxygen levels. Indeed, some species are able to survive complete anoxia for weeks to months. One known mechanism for this, observed in several species, is denitrification. For other species, a state of highly reduced metabolism, essentially a state of dormancy, has been proposed but never demonstrated. Here, we combined a 4 weeks feeding experiment, using C-13-enriched diatom biofilm, with correlated TEM and NanoSIMS imaging, plus bulk analysis of concentration and stable carbon isotopic composition of total organic matter and individual fatty acids, to study metabolic differences in the intertidal species Ammonia tepida exposed to oxic and anoxic conditions. Strongly contrasting cellular-level dynamics of ingestion and transfer of the ingested biofilm components were observed between the two conditions. Under oxic conditions, within a few days, intact diatoms were ingested, degraded, and their components assimilated, in part for biosynthesis of different cellular components: C-13-labeled lipid droplets formed after a few days and were subsequently lost (partially) through respiration. In contrast, in anoxia, fewer diatoms were initially ingested and these were not assimilated or metabolized further, but remained visible within the foraminiferal cytoplasm even after 4 weeks. Under oxic conditions, compound specific C-13 analyses showed substantial de novo synthesis by the foraminifera of specific polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs), such as 20:4(n-6). Very limited PUFA synthesis was observed under anoxia. Together, our results show that anoxia induced a greatly reduced rate of heterotrophic metabolism in Ammonia tepida on a time scale of less than 24 hours, these observations are consistent with a state of dormancy.

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