Microbial gardening in the ocean's twilight zone: Detritivorous metazoans benefit from fragmenting, rather than ingesting, sinking detritus

Daniel J. Mayor, Richard Sanders, Sarah L C Giering, Thomas R Anderson

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Sinking organic particles transfer ∼10 gigatonnes of carbon into the deep ocean each year, keeping the atmospheric CO2 concentration significantly lower than would otherwise be the case. The exact size of this effect is strongly influenced by biological activity in the ocean's twilight zone (∼50–1,000 m beneath the surface). Recent work suggests that the resident zooplankton fragment, rather than ingest, the majority of encountered organic particles, thereby stimulating bacterial proliferation and the deep-ocean microbial food web. Here we speculate that this apparently counterintuitive behaviour is an example of ‘microbial gardening’, a strategy that exploits the enzymatic and biosynthetic capabilities of microorganisms to facilitate the ‘gardener's’ access to a suite of otherwise unavailable compounds that are essential for metazoan life. We demonstrate the potential gains that zooplankton stand to make from microbial gardening using a simple steady state model, and we suggest avenues for future research.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1132-1137
Number of pages6
Issue number12
Early online date12 Sep 2014
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2014



  • carbon cycling
  • detritus
  • mesopelagic
  • microbial loop
  • nutrition
  • polyunsaturated fatty acid
  • zooplankton

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