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Orsi, William D.; Vuillemin, Aurele; Coskun, Ömer K.; Rodriguez, Paula; Oertel, Yanik; Niggemann, Jutta; Mohrholz, Volker and Gomez-Saez, Gonzalo (2021): Carbon assimilating fungi from surface ocean to subseafloor revealed by coupled phylogenetic and stable isotope analysis. In: Isme Journal, Vol. 16, No. 5: pp. 1245-1261

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Fungi are ubiquitous in the ocean and hypothesized to be important members of marine ecosystems, but their roles in the marine carbon cycle are poorly understood. Here, we use C-13 DNA stable isotope probing coupled with phylogenetic analyses to investigate carbon assimilation within diverse communities of planktonic and benthic fungi in the Benguela Upwelling System (Namibia). Across the redox stratified water column and in the underlying sediments, assimilation of C-13-labeled carbon from diatom extracellular polymeric substances (C-13-dEPS) by fungi correlated with the expression of fungal genes encoding carbohydrate-active enzymes. Phylogenetic analysis of genes from C-13-labeled metagenomes revealed saprotrophic lineages related to the facultative yeast Malassezia were the main fungal foragers of pelagic dEPS. In contrast, fungi living in the underlying sulfidic sediments assimilated more C-13-labeled carbon from chemosynthetic bacteria compared to dEPS. This coincided with a unique seafloor fungal community and dissolved organic matter composition compared to the water column, and a 100-fold increased fungal abundance within the subseafloor sulfide-nitrate transition zone. The subseafloor fungi feeding on C-13-labeled chemolithoautotrophs under anoxic conditions were affiliated with Chytridiomycota and Mucoromycota that encode cellulolytic and proteolytic enzymes, revealing polysaccharide and protein-degrading fungi that can anaerobically decompose chemosynthetic necromass. These subseafloor fungi, therefore, appear to be specialized in organic matter that is produced in the sediments. Our findings reveal that the phylogenetic diversity of fungi across redox stratified marine ecosystems translates into functionally relevant mechanisms helping to structure carbon flow from primary producers in marine microbiomes from the surface ocean to the subseafloor.

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