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Keywords:

  • carbon cycle;
  • deep-sea sediments;
  • microbial metabolism;
  • ecosystem functioning

[1] Previous studies have provided evidence that dark inorganic carbon fixation is an important process for the functioning of the ocean interior. However, its quantitative relevance and ecological significance in benthic deep-sea ecosystems remain unknown. We investigated the rates of inorganic carbon fixation together with prokaryotic abundance, biomass, assemblage composition, and heterotrophic carbon production in surface sediments of different benthic deep-sea systems along the Iberian margin (northeastern Atlantic Ocean) and in the Mediterranean Sea. Inorganic carbon fixation rates in these surface deep-sea sediments did not show clear depth-related patterns, and, on average, they accounted for 19% of the total heterotrophic biomass production. The incorporation rates of inorganic carbon were significantly related to the abundance of total Archaea (as determined by catalyzed reporter deposition fluorescence in situ hybridization) and completely inhibited using an inhibitor of archaeal metabolism, N1-guanyl-1,7-diaminoheptane. This suggests a major role of the archaeal assemblages in inorganic carbon fixation. We also show that benthic archaeal assemblages contribute approximately 25% of the total 3H-leucine incorporation. Inorganic carbon fixation in surface deep-sea sediments appears to be dependent not only upon chemosynthetic processes but also on heterotrophic/mixotrophic metabolism, as suggested by estimates of the chemolithotrophic energy requirements and the enhanced inorganic carbon fixation due to the increase in the availability of organic trophic resources. Overall, our data suggest that archaeal assemblages of surface deep-sea sediments are responsible for the high rates of inorganic carbon incorporation and thereby sustain the functioning of the food webs as well as influence the carbon cycling of benthic deep-sea ecosystems.