Can the intertidal benthic microalgal primary production account for the "Missing Carbon Sink"?



This communication emphasizes the role of intertidal benthic primary production in the global carbon cycle. Despite an increasing number of publications about benthic diatoms in specialized marine biology and ecology journals, this ecological compartment has not yet caught the attention of global biogeochemical cycle investigators. The idea that a large number of small contributions can be responsible for the estimated ‘missing carbon sink’ at a global scale has been suggested, although not addressed explicitly. In this context, the study focussed on the benthic microalgal compartment (the so-called “microphytobenthos”) of shallow-water ecosystems. It is a very productive compartment in terms of carbon assimilation (several orders of magnitude higher than the phytoplankton one). This study demonstrated that resuspension of this biomass by tidal oscillations over intertidal flats, even in low hydrodynamic conditions, generates a net carbon flux from the littoral zones to open coastal basins. Measurements allowed us to estimate that this microphytobenthic compartment, which colonizes a small fraction of the total Earth surface (smaller than the accuracy of the ecosphere surface estimate), could however generate a flux corresponding to the “missing carbon sink”.


microphytobenthos; primary production; missing carbon sink; export; littoral; global estimates

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