A model for microbial phosphorus cycling in bioturbated marine sediments: Significance for phosphorus burial in the early Paleozoic
A diagenetic model is used to simulate the diagenesis and burial of particulate organic carbon (Corg) and phosphorus (P) in marine sediments underlying anoxic versus oxic bottom waters. The latter are physically mixed by animals moving through the surface sediment (bioturbation) and ventilated by burrowing, tube-dwelling organisms (bioirrigation). The model is constrained using an empirical database including burial ratios of Corg with respect to organic P (Corg:Porg) and total reactive P (Corg:Preac), burial efficiencies of Corg and Porg, and inorganic carbon-to-phosphorus regeneration ratios. If Porg is preferentially mineralized relative to Corg during aerobic respiration, as many previous studies suggest, then the simulated Porg pool is found to be completely depleted. A modified model that incorporates the redox-dependent microbial synthesis of polyphosphates and Porg (termed the microbial P pump) allows preferential mineralization of the bulk Porg pool relative to Corg during both aerobic and anaerobic respiration and is consistent with the database. Results with this model show that P burial is strongly enhanced in sediments hosting fauna. Animals mix highly labile Porg away from the aerobic sediment layers where mineralization rates are highest, thereby mitigating diffusive PO43- fluxes to the bottom water. They also expand the redox niche where microbial P uptake occurs. The model was applied to a hypothetical shelf setting in the early Paleozoic; a time of the first radiation of benthic fauna. Results show that even shallow bioturbation at that time may have had a significant impact on P burial. Our model provides support for a recent study that proposed that faunal radiation in ocean sediments led to enhanced P burial and, possibly, a stabilization of atmospheric O2 levels. The results also help to explain Corg:Porg ratios in the geological record and the persistence of Porg in ancient marine sediments.