Seagrass meadows are able to store significant amounts of organic carbon in their underlying sediment, but global estimates are uncertain partly owing to spatio-temporal heterogeneity between and within areas and species. In order to provide robust estimates, there is a need to better understand the fate of, and mechanisms behind, organic carbon storage. In this observational study, we analyse a suite of biotic and abiotic parameters in sediment cores from 47 different eelgrass (Zostera marina) beds spanning the distributional range of the Northern Hemisphere. Depth profiles of particulate organic carbon (POC) revealed three patterns of vertical distribution where POC either increased, decreased or showed no pattern with sediment depth. These categories exhibited distinct profiles of delta C-13 and C:N ratios, where high POC profiles had a proportionally larger storage of eelgrass-derived material whereas low POC profiles were dominated by phytoplanktonic and macroalgal material. However, high POC did not always translate into high carbon density. Nevertheless, this large-scale dataset provides evidence that the variability in organic matter source in response to natural and anthropogenic environmental changes affects the potential role of eelgrass beds as POC sinks, particularly where eelgrass decline is observed.
- sediment carbon profiles
- carbon content