Image_1_Chemical and Isotopic Evidence for Organic Matter Sulfurization in Redox Gradients Around Mangrove Roots.pdf

Coastal environments like mangrove forests are increasingly recognized as potential hotspots for organic carbon burial, giving them a crucial and yet poorly constrained role in the global carbon cycle. Mangrove sediments are frequently anoxic, which facilitates elevated organic matter (OM) burial via several mechanisms, including sulfurization – abiotic reactions between dissolved (poly)sulfide and OM that decrease its lability. Although sulfurization was estimated to account for roughly half of OM preservation in a Bermuda mangrove forest, both its mechanisms and its global significance remain poorly understood. In this study, we investigate S cycling in mangrove forest sediments from Little Ambergris Cay, Turks and Caicos Islands, an environment with predominantly microbial OM inputs and no major source of terrestrial iron. We characterize the S- and C-isotope composition and organic S speciation of sedimentary OM fractions with varying degrees of resistance to acid hydrolysis, along with other inorganic S phases. Near the surface of a 3-mm-diameter, O2-releasing root, abundant organic and elemental S with a 34S-depleted composition indicates microbial sulfur cycling and OM sulfurization. A mixture of pyrite, elemental S, and organic S form a plaque within the outer 50 μm of the root, which also contains strongly 34S-depleted sulfate in its xylem. OM sulfurization products in the sediments include both the alkyl sulfides and disulfides associated with the root plaque and more oxidized forms, especially sulfonates. Hydrolysis-resistant organic S in the sediments is consistently 3–5‰ more 34S-enriched than coexisting elemental S, matching the reported kinetic isotope fractionation factor for OM sulfurization via reaction with polysulfides. These sediments also contain a substantial pool of solid-phase, hydrolyzable organic S with a seawater sulfate-like isotope composition, largely in the form of sulfate esters, which may represent excretions from abundant gastropods. The coexistance of sulfurized OM and aerobic macrofauna highlights how understanding spatial scales and/or temporal cycles in local redox state is critical for predicting net OM preservation, especially in dynamic, coastal environments. Future attempts to mechanistically predict changes in carbon storage in coastal systems will benefit from incorporating OM sulfurization as both a sink for microbially produced sulfide and a mechanism for enhanced carbon sequestration.