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Phylogeny, alkenone profiles and ecology of Isochrysidales subclades in saline lakes: implications for paleosalinity and paleotemperature reconstructions

Lookup NU author(s): Dr Emma PearsonORCiD



This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License (CC BY-NC-ND).


Long-chain alkenones (LCAs) produced by phylogenetically classified Groups 1 and 3 Isochrysidales are increasingly used for paleotemperature and/or paleosalinity reconstructions in oligohaline lakes and marine environments. However, there are considerable difficulties in the paleoenvironmental interpretation of LCAs from Group 2 Isochrysidales thriving in saline lakes. The biggest challenge lies in our poor understanding of the complexity and ecological niches of individual Group 2 subclades in saline lakes. Here, we perform comprehensive analysis of haptophyte-specific 18S rRNA sequences and distributions of LCAs, and long-chain alkenoates (LCEs) in surface sediments and suspended particulate matter (SPM) from 37 saline lakes in northern China. These lakes span a large salinity gradient from 0.5 to 308‰. Combined with published genomic data of Group 2 Isochrysidales, our phylogenetic analysis reveals three Group 2 subclades occupying distinct ecological niches: one ice-related bloomer Group 2i and two warm-season bloomers Groups 2w1 and 2w2. Group 2i, the earliest seasonal bloomer, frequently co-occurs with Group 2w1 in sediments from saline lakes with relatively low to intermediate salinity waters, whereas Group 2w2 blooms in hypersaline waters. Based on existing data, C39:4 methyl alkenone is a chemotaxonomic biomarker for Group 2i. %C37:4 (relative abundance of C37:4 to the total C37 alkenones) values in the three Group subclades follow the order: Group 2i > Group 2w2 > Group 2w1. The %C37:4 in sediment cores of saline lakes does not directly record past salinity changes, but instead reflects 3 variable contributions in production by these three subclades. This could indirectly and partially reflect overall salinity changes in some lakes dominated by Groups 2i and 2w1, but can be more complicated in lakes dominated by other assemblages. For our sites, we also demonstrate that direct use of C37 alkenone unsaturation indices (UK37, UK'37' and UK37'') for paleotemperature reconstructions in saline lakes is generally not feasible, except for cases where alkenone-producing Isochrysidales are dominated by one single species/subclade and seasonal production effects can be circumvented. We propose two possible alternative proxies for paleotemperature reconstructions in saline lakes: 1) unsaturation ratios of C41 and C42 alkenones, as these compounds are predominantly produced by a limited number of Group 2 species, such as Isochrysis nuda (Liao et al., 2020); 2) C38Et/C36OEt ratio (ratio of C38 ethyl alkenones and C36 ethyl alkenoates), which appears to have similar temperature sensitivity for Groups 2w1 and 2w2, in lakes with no Group 2i inputs.Our study provides new insights into the phylogenetic classifications of Group 2 Isochrysidales and their ecological/environmental niches, which are fundamental for more quantitative and rigorous applications of LCAs and LCEs in saline lakes as paleosalinity and paleotemperature proxies

Publication metadata

Author(s): Yao Y, Zhao J, Vachula RS, Liao S, Li G, Pearson EJ, Huang Y

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta

Year: 2022

Volume: 317

Pages: 472-487

Print publication date: 15/01/2022

Online publication date: 09/11/2021

Acceptance date: 01/11/2021

Date deposited: 16/12/2021

ISSN (print): 0016-7037

ISSN (electronic): 1872-9533

Publisher: Elsevier Ltd


DOI: 10.1016/j.gca.2021.11.001


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