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Strong influence of the littoral zone on sedimentary lipid biomarkers in a meromictic lake.

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      Planktonic sulfur bacteria growing in zones of photic zone euxinia (PZE) are important primary producers in stratified, sulfur-rich environments. The potential for export and burial of microbial biomass from anoxic photic zones remains relatively understudied, despite being of fundamental importance to interpreting the geologic record of bulk total organic carbon (TOC) and individual lipid biomarkers. Here we report the relative concentrations and carbon isotope ratios of lipid biomarkers from the water column and sediments of meromictic Mahoney Lake. The data show that organic matter in the central basin sediments is indistinguishable from material at the lake shoreline in both its lipid and carbon isotopic compositions. However, this material is not consistent with either the lipid profile or carbon isotope composition of biomass obtained directly from the region of PZE. Due to the strong density stratification and the intensive carbon and sulfur recycling pathways in the water column, there appears to be minimal direct export of the sulfur-oxidizing planktonic community to depth. The results instead suggest that basinal sediments are sourced via the littoral environment, a system that integrates an indigenous shoreline microbial community, the degraded remains of laterally rafted biomass from the PZE community, and detrital remains of terrigenous higher plants. Material from the lake margins appears to travel downslope, traverse the strong density gradient, and become deposited in the deep basin; its final composition may be largely heterotrophic in origin. This suggests an important role for clastic and/or authigenic minerals in aiding the burial of terrigenous and mat-derived organic matter in euxinic systems. Downslope or mineral-aided transport of anoxygenic, photoautotrophic microbial mats may have been a significant sedimentation process in early Earth history.

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      [1 ] Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, USA.
      Nov 2014
      : 12
      : 6
      25201322 10.1111/gbi.12099


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