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2010
Thurber, AR, Kroger K, Neira C, Wiklund H, Levin LA.  2010.  Stable isotope signatures and methane use by New Zealand cold seep benthos. Marine Geology. 272:260-269.   10.1016/j.margeo.2009.06.001   AbstractWebsite

The carbon isotopic composition of seep faunal tissue represents a time-integrated view of the interaction between biology and the biogeochemical gradients within the environment. Here we provide an initial description of carbon and nitrogen stable isotope signatures of dominant symbiont-bearing megafauna and heterotrophic mega- and macrofauna from 10 methane-seep sites on the continental margin of the North Island of New Zealand (662-1201 m water depth). Isotopic signatures suggest that sulfide oxidation supports symbiont-bearing taxa including solemyid and vesicomyid bivalves, and methanotrophic symbionts are present in the seep mussel Bathymodiolus sp Multiple species of Frenulata (Siboglinidae) are present and have a range of isotopic values that are indicative of both thiotroph- and methanotroph-based nutrition. Isotopic composition of the tubeworm Lamellibrachia sp. varied by 23 3 parts per thousand among individuals although there was no consistent difference among sites Variation in methane use by heterotrophic fauna appears to reflect the availability of hard vs. soft substrate, macrofauna on hard substrates had high delta(13)C signatures, reflecting consumption of photosynthetic-derived organic matter Two unique, biotic assemblages were discovered to be fueled largely by methane: a hard-substrate, multi-phyla sponge-associated community (inhabiting the sponge Pseudosuberites sp) and a soft-sediment assemblage dominated by ampharetid polychaetes Isotope signatures yield estimates of 38-100% and 6-100% methane-derived carbon in sponge associates and ampharetid-bed macrofauna. respectively. These estimates are comparable to those made for deeper methane seeps at the Florida Escarpment (3290 m) and Kodiak. Alaska seeps (4445 m) The overall high use of methane as a carbon source by both symbiont-bearing and heterotrophic fauna suggests that New Zealand methane seeps are an ideal model system to study the interaction among metazoans, bacteria, archaea, and their resulting effect on methane cycles. (C) 2009 Elsevier B V All rights reserved

2009
Rathburn, AE, Levin LA, Tryon M, Gieskes JM, Martin JM, Perez ME, Fodrie FJ, Neira C, Fryer GJ, Mendoza G, McMillan PA, Kluesner J, Adamic J, Ziebis W.  2009.  Geological and biological heterogeneity of the Aleutian margin (1965-4822 m). Progress in Oceanography. 80:22-50.   10.1016/j.pocean.2008.12.002   AbstractWebsite

Geological, biological and biogeochemical characterization of the previously unexplored margin off Unimak Island, Alaska between 1965 and 4822 m water depth was conducted to examine: (1) the geological processes that shaped the margin, (2) the linkages between depth, geomorphology and environmental disturbance in structuring benthic communities of varying size classes and (3) the existence, composition and nutritional sources of methane seep biota on this margin. The study area was mapped and sampled using multibeam sonar, a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) and a towed camera system. Our results provide the first characterization of the Aleutian margin mid and lower slope benthic communities (micro-biota, foraminifera, macrofauna and megafauna), recognizing diverse habitats in a variety of settings. Our investigations also revealed that the geologic feature known as the "Ugamak Slide" is not a slide at all, and could not have resulted from a large 1946 earthquake. However, sediment disturbance appears to be a pervasive feature of this margin. We speculate that the deep-sea occurrence of high densities of Elphidium, typically a shallow-water foraminiferan, results from the influence of sediment redeposition from shallower habitats. Strong representation of cumacean, amphipod and tanaid crustaceans among the Unimak macrofauna may also reflect sediment instability. Although some faunal abundances decline with depth, habitat heterogeneity and disturbance generated by canyons and methane seepage appear to influence abundances of biota in ways that supercede any clear depth gradient in organic matter input. Measures of sediment organic matter and pigment content as well as C and N isotopic signatures were highly heterogeneous, although the availability of organic matter and the abundance of microorganisms in the upper sediment (1-5 cm) were positively correlated. We report the first methane seep on the Aleutian slope in the Unimak region (3263-3285 m), comprised of clam bed, pogonophoran field and carbonate habitats. Seep foraminiferal assemblages were dominated by agglutinated taxa, except for habitats above the seafloor on pogonophoran tubes. Numerous infaunal taxa in clam bed and pogonophoran field sediments and deep-sea "reef' cnidarians (e.g., corals and hydroids) residing on rocks near seepage sites exhibited light organic delta(13)C signatures indicative of chemosynthetic nutritional sources. The extensive geological, biogeochemical and biological heterogeneity as well as disturbance features observed on the Aleutian slope provide an attractive explanation for the exceptionally high biodiversity characteristic of the world's continental margins. (C) 2008 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

Levin, LA, Ekau W, Gooday AJ, Jorissen F, Middelburg JJ, Naqvi SWA, Neira C, Rabalais NN, Zhang J.  2009.  Effects of natural and human-induced hypoxia on coastal benthos. Biogeosciences. 6:2063-2098.   10.5194/bg-6-2063-2009   AbstractWebsite

Coastal hypoxia (defined here as < 1.42 ml L(-1); 62.5 mu M; 2 mg L(-1), approx. 30% oxygen saturation) develops seasonally in many estuaries, fjords, and along open coasts as a result of natural upwelling or from anthropogenic eutrophication induced by riverine nutrient inputs. Permanent hypoxia occurs naturally in some isolated seas and marine basins as well as in open slope oxygen minimum zones. Responses of benthos to hypoxia depend on the duration, predictability, and intensity of oxygen depletion and on whether H(2)S is formed. Under suboxic conditions, large mats of filamentous sulfide oxidizing bacteria cover the seabed and consume sulfide. They are hypothesized to provide a detoxified microhabitat for eukaryotic benthic communities. Calcareous foraminiferans and nematodes are particularly tolerant of low oxygen concentrations and may attain high densities and dominance, often in association with microbial mats. When oxygen is sufficient to support metazoans, small, soft-bodied invertebrates (typically annelids), often with short generation times and elaborate branchial structures, predominate. Large taxa are more sensitive than small taxa to hypoxia. Crustaceans and echinoderms are typically more sensitive to hypoxia, with lower oxygen thresholds, than annelids, sipunculans, molluscs and cnidarians. Mobile fish and shellfish will migrate away from low-oxygen areas. Within a species, early life stages may be more subject to oxygen stress than older life stages. Hypoxia alters both the structure and function of benthic communities, but effects may differ with regional hypoxia history. Human-caused hypoxia is generally linked to eutrophication, and occurs adjacent to watersheds with large populations or agricultural activities. Many occurrences are seasonal, within estuaries, fjords or enclosed seas of the North Atlantic and the NW Pacific Oceans. Benthic faunal responses, elicited at oxygen levels below 2 ml L(-1), typically involve avoidance or mortality of large species and elevated abundances of enrichment opportunists, sometimes prior to population crashes. Areas of low oxygen persist seasonally or continuously beneath upwelling regions, associated with the upper parts of oxygen minimum zones (SE Pacific, W Africa, N Indian Ocean). These have a distribution largely distinct from eutrophic areas and support a resident fauna that is adapted to survive and reproduce at oxygen concentrations < 0.5 ml L(-1). Under both natural and eutrophication-caused hypoxia there is loss of diversity, through attrition of intolerant species and elevated dominance, as well as reductions in body size. These shifts in species composition and diversity yield altered trophic structure, energy flow pathways, and corresponding ecosystem services such as production, organic matter cycling and organic C burial. Increasingly the influences of nature and humans interact to generate or exacerbate hypoxia. A warmer ocean is more stratified, holds less oxygen, and may experience greater advection of oxygen-poor source waters, making new regions subject to hypoxia. Future understanding of benthic responses to hypoxia must be established in the context of global climate change and other human influences such as overfishing, pollution, disease, habitat loss, and species invasions.

2008
Sellanes, J, Quiroga E, Neira C.  2008.  Megafauna community structure and trophic relationships at the recently discovered Concepcion Methane Seep Area, Chile, ~36°S. Ices Journal of Marine Science. 65:1102-1111.   10.1093/icesjms/fsn099   AbstractWebsite

The fauna, community composition, and trophic support of the newly discovered Concepcion Methane Seep Area (CMSA) are compared with those at a nearby non-seep control. The assemblage of chemosymbiotic bivalves is defined by eight species, including the families Lucinidae, Thyasiridae, Solemyidae, and Vesicomyidae. Seep polychaetes are represented by Lamellibrachia sp. and two commensal species of the vesicomyid Calyptogena gallardoi. Although taxonomic analysis is still under way, most of the chemosymbiotic species seem to be endemics. The CMSA is a hotspot for non-seep benthic megafauna too; 101 taxa were present, but most of them are colonists or vagrants (i.e. not endemics of methane seeps). Isotope analysis supported the belief that non-symbiont-bearing species utilize photosynthetically fixed carbon, because they were isotopically distinct from the chemosymbiotic bivalve species present. It is our opinion that, at this site, which underlies one of the most productive coastal upwelling regions of the world, spatial heterogeneity and the availability of hard substratum, generated by the presence of authigenic carbonate crusts, are more important factors in attracting non-seep fauna than the availability of locally produced chemosynthetic food.