Microbial bioavailability regulates organic matter preservation in marine sediments
Burial of organic matter (OM) plays an important role in marine sediments, linking the short-term, biological carbon cycle with the long-term, geological subsurface cycle. It is well established that low-oxygen conditions promote organic carbon burial in marine sediments. However, the mechanism remains enigmatic. Here we report biochemical quality, microbial degradability, OM preservation and accumulation along an oxygen gradient in the Indian Ocean. Our results show that more OM, with biochemically higher quality, accumulates under low oxygen conditions. Nevertheless, microbial degradability does not correlate with the biochemical quality of OM. This decoupling of OM biochemical quality and microbial degradability, or bioavailability, violates the ruling paradigm that higher quality implies higher microbial processing. The inhibition of bacterial OM remineralisation may play an important role in the burial of organic matter in marine sediments and formation of oil source rocks.