Organic chemistry insights for the exceptional soil carbon storage of the seagrass Posidonia australis

Author Identifier

Oscar Serrano
Orcid: https://orcid.org/0000-0002-5973-0046

Mohammad Rozaimi
Orcid: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-6631-8677

Paul Lavery
Orcid: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-5162-273X

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Title

Estuarine, Coastal and Shelf Science




School of Science / Centre for Marine Ecosystems Research


Australian Research Council

Grant Number

ARC Number: DE170101524


Serrano, O., Rozaimi, M., Lavery, P. S., & Smernik, R. J. (2020). Organic chemistry insights for the exceptional soil carbon storage of seagrass Posidonia australis. Estuarine, Coastal and Shelf Science, 237, Article 106662. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ecss.2020.106662


The high organic carbon (OC) stores in seagrass meadows have led to their recognition as significant Blue Carbon sinks, though the diagenetic conditions that enable OC retention in seagrass soils remain poorly understood. In this study, seagrass soils were sampled from a Posidonia australis meadow in Oyster Harbour (Albany; south-western Australia) to investigate the preservation of sedimentary OC. We analysed soil characteristics (colour, grain size and redox potential), radiocarbon age, and characterised the soil organic matter (OM) using solid state CP/MAS 13C NMR spectroscopy to examine the preservation of OM down the soil profile. There was minimal change in organic composition over 1,700 years of accumulation, indicating long-term OM preservation. Primarily, this preservation appears to be driven by the recalcitrance of seagrass detritus buried in anoxic soils. The majority (70–83%) of total sedimentary OM comprised components directly attributable to seagrass origins (lignin, carbohydrate and black carbon-like matter), while the remainder consisted mostly of protein, some of which may have been present in seagrass biomass, along with likely contributions from algae and microbes. Although black carbon originates from organic matter combustion, here we provide evidence that the 13C NMR signal identified as black carbon-like matter in our soils is possibly associated with seagrass-derived organic matter consisting of degraded lignin products or other non-pyrogenic aromatics. The increase in the relative abundance of this black carbon-like matter with aging suggests its selective preservation. The relative abundances of carbohydrates significantly decreased with age down core (i.e. they appeared to be selectively decomposed), while lignin and protein did not show any quantitative changes in relative abundance (non-selective preservation). These findings demonstrate the exceptional preservation of P. australis derived OC, which contributes to our understanding of the higher OC storage capacity of Posidonia compared to other seagrass species. © 2020 Elsevier Ltd