Postdepositional aerobic and anaerobic particulate organic matter degradation succession reflected by dinoflagellate cysts: The Madeira Abyssal Plain revisited

Gerhard.Kuhn [ at ]


We report on the succession of selective degradation of dinoflagellate cyst species that can be considered representative for discrete particulate organic matter (POM) classes of different degradability. The effects of anaerobic and aerobic degradation as well as bioturbation in a natural setting are documented in high resolution by means of palynological and geochemical analyses on Madeira Abyssal Plain A- and F-turbidites. These turbidites are unique as their initial ungraded sediments are affected by a downward penetrating oxydation front. Geochemical analyses document the presence of an active downward penetrating oxidation front in the A turbidite, and a palaeo-oxidation front in the F-turbidite. In this latter turbidite, several zones can be distinguished from top to bottom: an oxidised bioturbated zone, an oxidised but not-bioturbated zone, a visible paleooxidation front, and a narrow nitrogenous zone overlying unoxidised sediments. We are the first to report that anaerobic degradation within the nitrogenous zones in both turbidites affects cysts of some heterotrophic dinoflagellates. The cyst species affected (Echinidinium aculeatum, Echinidinium spp., cysts of Protoperidinium monospinum and Brigantedinium spp.) exponentially decrease in this zone that is further characterised by a strong decrease in sulphur content due to sulphide oxidation. Degradation rates are different for each species. These cysts of heterotrophic dinoflagellates consist of a nitrogen-rich glycan in contrast to the cellulosic cysts walls of phototrophic dinoflagellates. Therefore, our observation supports the hypothesis that the quality of organic matter plays an important role in OM degradation in oxygen deficient environments with N-rich OM being more labile than other components in these environments. All heterotrophic species are strongly affected by aerobic degradation with their cyst concentrations exponentially decreasing with increasing oxygen exposure. Degradation rates vary between species and range von highly degradable to slightly degradable. Most strongly affected are cysts of Protoperidinium monospinum, Brigantedinium spp., and Echinidinium spp. Increasingly less affected are: Selenopemphix nephroides, Selenopemphix quanta, other Peridinioids and Echinidinium aculeatum. An effect of aerobic degradation on photosynthetic species could only be observed for Pentapharsodinium dalei. All Impagidinium species appeared to be resistant to aerobic degradation. Despite having analysed only a limited number of samples in the bioturbated zone of the F-turbidite, we have strong indications that the bioturbation can lead to the degradation of POM that is not affected by aerobic degradation alone. The cyst species Spiniferites ramosus, Impagidinium paradoxum, Lingulodinium machaerophorum, Nematosphaeropsis labyrinthus, Spiniferites spp., Impagidinium sphaericum, Spiniferites elongates and Spiniferites mirabilis do not show concentration changes in the non-bioturbated aerobic sediments but their concentrations are considerably decreased in the bioturbated part of the F-turbidite. This supports the hypothesis that bioturbation can increase the degradation of POM by e.g. increasing oxygen exposure time and/or by an alteration of aerobic and anaerobic conditions. We furthermore show that the degradation rates of POM components represented by individual cyst species differ between zones with different redox and biological conditions. This implies that POM degradation reaction rate coefficients are environment dependent. Our observation that dinoflagellate cyst species have different degradation rates ranging from extremely labile to extremely recalcitrant within the individual redox/bioturbation zones supports the hypothesis that cyst walls have a species specific molecular structure. Our results support continuum models of organic matter degradation that assume a continuous distribution of organic matter reactivity.

Item Type
Primary Division
Primary Topic
Peer revision
ISI/Scopus peer-reviewed
Publication Status
Eprint ID
DOI 10.1016/j.margeo.2018.11.010

Cite as
Zonneveld, K. A. , Gray, D. D. , Kuhn, G. and Versteegh, G. J. , Marum (2019): Postdepositional aerobic and anaerobic particulate organic matter degradation succession reflected by dinoflagellate cysts: The Madeira Abyssal Plain revisited , Marine Geology, 408 , pp. 87-109 . doi: 10.1016/j.margeo.2018.11.010



Research Platforms


Edit Item Edit Item