FCE LTER Journal Articles


Molecular characterization of Cladium peat from the Florida Everglades: biomarker associations with humic fractions


The accumulation and preservation of peat soils in Everglades freshwater marshes and mangrove swamps is an essential process in the ecological functioning of these ecosystems. Human intervention and climate change have modified nutrient dynamics and hydroperiod in the Everglades and peat loss due to such anthropogenic activities is evident. However, not much is known on the molecular level regarding the biogeochemical characteristics, which allow peat to be preserved in the Everglades. Lipid biomarkers trapped within or bound to humic-type structures can provide important geochemical information regarding the origin and microbial transformation of OM in peat. Four lipid fractions obtained from a Cladium peat, namely the freely extractable fraction and those associated with humin, humic acid, and fulvic acid fractions, showed clear differences in their molecular distribution suggesting different OM sources and structural and diagenetic states of the source material. Both, higher plant derived and microbial lipids were found in association with these humic-type substances. Most biomarker distributions suggest an increment in the microbial/terrestrial lipid ratio from the free to humin to humic to fulvic fractions. Microbial reworking of lipids, and the incorporation of microbial biomarkers into the humic-type fractions was evident, as well as the preservation of diagenetic byproducts. The lipid distribution associated with the fulvic acids suggests a high degree of microbial reworking for this fraction. Evidence for this 3D structure was obtained through the presence of the relatively high abundance of α,ω-dicarboxylic acids and phenolic and benzenecarboxylic compounds. The increment in structural complexity of the phenolic and benzencarboxylic compounds in combination with the reduction in the carbon chain length of the dicarboxylic acids from the free to fulvic fraction suggests the latter to be structurally the most stable, compacted and diagenetically altered substrate. This analytical approach can now be applied to peat samples from other areas within the Everglades ecosystem, affected differently by human intervention with the aim to assess changes in organic matter preservation.


This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation through the Florida Coastal Everglades Long-Term Ecological Research program under Cooperative Agreements #DBI-0620409 and #DEB-9910514. Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in the material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.

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