Publications

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Book Chapter
Blair, NE, Levin LA, Demaster DJ, Plaia G, Martin C, Fornes W, Thomas C, Pope R.  2001.  The biogeochemistry of carbon in continental slope sediments. Organism-sediment Interactions. ( Aller JY, Woodin S, Aller RC, Belle W. Baruch Institute for Marine Biology and Coastal Research. , Eds.).:243-262., Columbia: Published for the Belle W. Baruch Insitute for Marine Biology and Coastal Research by the University of South Carolina Press Abstract
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Grosholz, ED, Levin LA, Tyler C, Neira C.  2009.  Changes in community structure and ecosystem function following Spartina alterniflora invasion of Pacific estuaries. Human impacts on salt marshes : a global perspective. ( Silliman BR, Grosholz E, Bertness MD, Eds.).:23-40., Berkeley: University of California Press Abstract
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Levin, LA, Gooday A.  2003.  The Deep Atlantic Ocean. Ecosystems of the deep oceans. ( Tyler PA, Ed.).:111-178., Amsterdam ; New York: Elsevier Abstract
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Levin, LA, Talley T.  2000.  Influences of vegetation and abiotic environmental factors on salt marsh benthos. Concepts and controversies in tidal marsh ecology. ( Weinstein M, Kreeger D, Eds.).:661-708., Dordrecht ; Boston: Kluwer Academic Abstract
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Conference Proceedings
Tegner, MJ, Levin LA.  1982.  Do sea urchins and abalones compete in California kelp forest communities? Echinoderms, proceedings of the International Conference, Tampa Bay. ( Lawrence JM, Ed.).:265-271., RotterdamSalem, NH: A.A. Balkema ;Distributed in USA & Canada by MBS Abstract
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Journal Article
Thornhill, DJ, Struck TH, Ebbe B, Lee RW, Mendoza GF, Levin LA, Halanych KM.  2012.  Adaptive radiation in extremophilic Dorvilleidae (Annelida): diversification of a single colonizer or multiple independent lineages? Ecology and Evolution. 2:1958-1970.   10.1002/ece3.314   AbstractWebsite

Metazoan inhabitants of extreme environments typically evolved from forms found in less extreme habitats. Understanding the prevalence with which animals move into and ultimately thrive in extreme environments is critical to elucidating how complex life adapts to extreme conditions. Methane seep sediments along the Oregon and California margins have low oxygen and very high hydrogen sulfide levels, rendering them inhospitable to many life forms. Nonetheless, several closely related lineages of dorvilleid annelids, including members of Ophryotrocha, Parougia, and Exallopus, thrive at these sites in association with bacterial mats and vesicomyid clam beds. These organisms are ideal for examining adaptive radiations in extreme environments. Did dorvilleid annelids invade these extreme environments once and then diversify? Alternatively, did multiple independent lineages adapt to seep conditions? To address these questions, we examined the evolutionary history of methane-seep dorvilleids using 16S and Cyt b genes in an ecological context. Our results indicate that dorvilleids invaded these extreme habitats at least four times, implying preadaptation to life at seeps. Additionally, we recovered considerably more dorvilleid diversity than is currently recognized. A total of 3 major clades (designated "Ophryotrocha,""Mixed Genera" and "Parougia") and 12 terminal lineages or species were encountered. Two of these lineages represented a known species, Parougia oregonensis, whereas the remaining 10 lineages were newly discovered species. Certain lineages exhibited affinity to geography, habitat, sediment depth, and/or diet, suggesting that dorvilleids at methane seeps radiated via specialization and resource partitioning.

Breitburg, DL, Salisbury J, Bernhard JM, Cai WJ, Dupont S, Doney SC, Kroeker KJ, Levin LA, Long WC, Milke LM, Miller SH, Phelan B, Passow U, Seibel BA, Todgham AE, Tarrant AM.  2015.  And on top of all that... Coping with ocean acidification in the midst of many stressors. Oceanography. 28:48-61.   10.5670/oceanog.2015.31   AbstractWebsite

Oceanic and coastal waters are acidifying due to processes dominated in the open ocean by increasing atmospheric CO2 and dominated in estuaries and some coastal waters by nutrient-fueled respiration. The patterns and severity of acidification, as well as its effects, are modified by the host of stressors related to human activities that also influence these habitats. Temperature, deoxygenation, and changes in food webs are particularly important co-stressors because they are pervasive, and both their causes and effects are often mechanistically linked to acidification. Development of a theoretical underpinning to multiple stressor research that considers physiological, ecological, and evolutionary perspectives is needed because testing all combinations of stressors and stressor intensities experimentally is impossible. Nevertheless, use of a wide variety of research approaches is a logical and promising strategy for improving understanding of acidification and its effects. Future research that focuses on spatial and temporal patterns of stressor interactions and on identifying mechanisms by which multiple stressors affect individuals, populations, and ecosystems is critical. It is also necessary to incorporate consideration of multiple stressors into management, mitigation, and adaptation to acidification and to increase public and policy recognition of the importance of addressing acidification in the context of the suite of other stressors with which it potentially interacts.

Thurber, AR, Levin LA, Orphan VJ, Marlow JJ.  2012.  Archaea in metazoan diets: implications for food webs and biogeochemical cycling. ISME Journal. 6:1602-1612.   10.1038/ismej.2012.16   AbstractWebsite

Although the importance of trophic linkages, including 'top-down forcing', on energy flow and ecosystem productivity is recognized, the influence of metazoan grazing on Archaea and the biogeochemical processes that they mediate is unknown. Here, we test if: (1) Archaea provide a food source sufficient to allow metazoan fauna to complete their life cycle; (2) neutral lipid biomarkers (including crocetane) can be used to identify Archaea consumers; and (3) archaeal aggregates are a dietary source for methane seep metazoans. In the laboratory, we demonstrated that a dorvilleid polychaete, Ophryotrocha labronica, can complete its life cycle on two strains of Euryarchaeota with the same growth rate as when fed bacterial and eukaryotic food. Archaea were therefore confirmed as a digestible and nutritious food source sufficient to sustain metazoan populations. Both strains of Euryarchaeota used as food sources had unique lipids that were not incorporated into O. labronica tissues. At methane seeps, sulfate-reducing bacteria that form aggregations and live syntrophically with anaerobic-methane oxidizing Archaea contain isotopically and structurally unique fatty acids (FAs). These biomarkers were incorporated into tissues of an endolithofaunal dorvilleid polychaete species from Costa Rica (mean bulk delta C-13 = -92 +/- 4 parts per thousand; polar lipids -116 parts per thousand) documenting consumption of archaeal-bacterial aggregates. FA composition of additional soft-sediment methane seep species from Oregon and California provided evidence that consumption of archaeal-bacterial aggregates is widespread at methane seeps. This work is the first to show that Archaea are consumed by heterotrophic metazoans, a trophic process we coin as 'archivory'. The ISME Journal (2012) 6, 1602-1612; doi:10.1038/ismej.2012.16; published online 8 March 2012

Nordstrom, MC, Currin CA, Talley TS, Whitcraft CR, Levin LA.  2014.  Benthic food-web succession in a developing salt marsh. Marine Ecology Progress Series. 500:43-U69.   10.3354/meps10686   AbstractWebsite

Ecological succession has long been a focal point for research, and knowledge of underlying mechanisms is required if scientists and managers are to successfully promote recovery of ecosystem function following disturbance. We addressed the influence of bottom-up processes on successional assemblage shifts in salt marshes, ecosystems with strong physical gradients, and how these shifts were reflected in the trophic characteristics of benthic fauna. We tracked the temporal development of infaunal community structure and food-web interactions in a young, created salt marsh and an adjacent natural marsh in Mission Bay, California, USA (1996-2003). Macro faunal community succession in created Spartina foliosa habitats occurred rapidly, with infaunal densities reaching 70% of those in the natural marsh after 1 yr. Community composition shifted from initial dominance of insect larvae (surface-feeding microalgivores) to increased dominance of oligo chaetes (subsurface-feeding detritivores) within the first 7 yr. Isotopic labeling of microalgae, N-2-fixing cyanobacteria, S. foliosa and bacteria revealed direct links (or absence thereof) between these basal food sources and specific consumer groups. In combination with the compositional changes in the macroinvertebrate fauna, the trophic patterns indicated an increase in food-web complexity over time, reflecting resource-driven marsh succession. Natural abundance stable isotope ratios of salt marsh consumers (infaunal and epifaunal macroinvertebrates, and fish) initially reflected distinctions in trophic structure between the created and natural marsh, but these diminished during successional development. Our findings suggest that changing resource availability is one of the important drivers of succession in benthic communities of restored wetlands in Southern California.

Levin, LA, Mendoza GF, Grupe BM, Gonzalez JP, Jellison B, Rouse G, Thurber AR, Waren A.  2015.  Biodiversity on the rocks: Macrofauna inhabiting authigenic carbonate at Costa Rica methane seeps. PLoS ONE. 10:e0131080.: Public Library of Science   10.1371/journal.pone.0131080   Abstract

The activity of anaerobic methane oxidizing microbes facilitates precipitation of vast quantities of authigenic carbonate at methane seeps. Here we demonstrate the significant role of carbonate rocks in promoting diversity by providing unique habitat and food resources for macrofaunal assemblages at seeps on the Costa Rica margin (400–1850 m). The attendant fauna is surprisingly similar to that in rocky intertidal shores, with numerous grazing gastropods (limpets and snails) as dominant taxa. However, the community feeds upon seep-associated microbes. Macrofaunal density, composition, and diversity on carbonates vary as a function of seepage activity, biogenic habitat and location.

Mora, C, Wei CL, Rollo A, Amaro T, Baco AR, Billett D, Bopp L, Chen Q, Collier M, Danovaro R, Gooday AJ, Grupe BM, Halloran PR, Ingels J, Jones DOB, Levin LA, Nakano H, Norling K, Ramirez-Llodra E, Rex M, Ruhl HA, Smith CR, Sweetman AK, Thurber AR, Tjiputra JF, Usseglio P, Watling L, Wu TW, Yasuhara M.  2013.  Biotic and human vulnerability to projected changes in ocean biogeochemistry over the 21st century. Plos Biology. 11   10.1371/journal.pbio.1001682   AbstractWebsite

Ongoing greenhouse gas emissions can modify climate processes and induce shifts in ocean temperature, pH, oxygen concentration, and productivity, which in turn could alter biological and social systems. Here, we provide a synoptic global assessment of the simultaneous changes in future ocean biogeochemical variables over marine biota and their broader implications for people. We analyzed modern Earth System Models forced by greenhouse gas concentration pathways until 2100 and showed that the entire world's ocean surface will be simultaneously impacted by varying intensities of ocean warming, acidification, oxygen depletion, or shortfalls in productivity. In contrast, only a small fraction of the world's ocean surface, mostly in polar regions, will experience increased oxygenation and productivity, while almost nowhere will there be ocean cooling or pH elevation. We compiled the global distribution of 32 marine habitats and biodiversity hotspots and found that they would all experience simultaneous exposure to changes in multiple biogeochemical variables. This superposition highlights the high risk for synergistic ecosystem responses, the suite of physiological adaptations needed to cope with future climate change, and the potential for reorganization of global biodiversity patterns. If co-occurring biogeochemical changes influence the delivery of ocean goods and services, then they could also have a considerable effect on human welfare. Approximately 470 to 870 million of the poorest people in the world rely heavily on the ocean for food, jobs, and revenues and live in countries that will be most affected by simultaneous changes in ocean biogeochemistry. These results highlight the high risk of degradation of marine ecosystems and associated human hardship expected in a future following current trends in anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions.

Marlow, JJ, Steele JA, Ziebis W, Thurber AR, Levin LA, Orphan VJ.  2014.  Carbonate-hosted methanotrophy represents an unrecognized methane sink in the deep sea. Nature Communications. 5   10.1038/ncomms6094   AbstractWebsite

The atmospheric flux of methane from the oceans is largely mitigated through microbially mediated sulphate-coupled methane oxidation, resulting in the precipitation of authigenic carbonates. Deep-sea carbonates are common around active and palaeo-methane seepage, and have primarily been viewed as passive recorders of methane oxidation; their role as active and unique microbial habitats capable of continued methane consumption has not been examined. Here we show that seep-associated carbonates harbour active microbial communities, serving as dynamic methane sinks. Microbial aggregate abundance within the carbonate interior exceeds that of seep sediments, and molecular diversity surveys reveal methanotrophic communities within protolithic nodules and well-lithified carbonate pavements. Aggregations of microbial cells within the carbonate matrix actively oxidize methane as indicated by stable isotope FISH-nanoSIMS experiments and (CH4)-C-14 radiotracer rate measurements. Carbonate-hosted methanotrophy extends the known ecological niche of these important methane consumers and represents a previously unrecognized methane sink that warrants consideration in global methane budgets.

Bowden, DA, Rowden AA, Thurber AR, Baco AR, Levin LA, Smith CR.  2013.  Cold seep epifaunal communities on the Hikurangi Margin, New Zealand: Composition, succession, and vulnerability to human activities. Plos One. 8   10.1371/journal.pone.0076869   AbstractWebsite

Cold seep communities with distinctive chemoautotrophic fauna occur where hydrocarbon-rich fluids escape from the seabed. We describe community composition, population densities, spatial extent, and within-region variability of epifaunal communities at methane-rich cold seep sites on the Hikurangi Margin, New Zealand. Using data from towed camera transects, we match observations to information about the probable life-history characteristics of the principal fauna to develop a hypothetical succession sequence for the Hikurangi seep communities, from the onset of fluid flux to senescence. New Zealand seep communities exhibit taxa characteristic of seeps in other regions, including predominance of large siboglinid tubeworms, vesicomyid clams, and bathymodiolin mussels. Some aspects appear to be novel; however, particularly the association of dense populations of ampharetid polychaetes with high-sulphide, high-methane flux, soft-sediment microhabitats. The common occurrence of these ampharetids suggests they play a role in conditioning sulphide-rich sediments at the sediment-water interface, thus facilitating settlement of clam and tubeworm taxa which dominate space during later successional stages. The seep sites are subject to disturbance from bottom trawling at present and potentially from gas hydrate extraction in future. The likely life-history characteristics of the dominant megafauna suggest that while ampharetids, clams, and mussels exploit ephemeral resources through rapid growth and reproduction, lamellibrachid tubeworm populations may persist potentially for centuries. The potential consequences of gas hydrate extraction cannot be fully assessed until extraction methods and target localities are defined but any long-term modification of fluid flow to seep sites would have consequences for all chemoautotrophic fauna.

Pasulka, AL, Goffredi SK, Tavormina PL, Dawson KS, Levin LA, Rouse GW, Orphan VJ.  2017.  Colonial tube-dwelling ciliates influence methane cycling and microbial diversity within methane seep ecosystems. Frontiers in Marine Science. 3   10.3389/fmars.2016.00276   Abstract

In a variety of marine ecosystems, microbial eukaryotes play important ecological roles; however, our knowledge of their importance in deep-sea methane seep ecosystems is limited. Microbial eukaryotes have the potential to influence microbial community composition and diversity by creating habitat heterogeneity, and may contribute to carbon cycling through grazing or symbiotic associations with microorganisms. In this study, we characterized the distribution, substrate variability and ecology of a particular group of microbial eukaryotes, known as folliculinid ciliates, at methane seeps along the eastern Pacific margin. Folliculinid ciliates were recently recognized as an abundant and ecologically important component of hydrothermal vent ecosystems, but their ecology in methane seeps has not been examined. Folliculinid ciliates inhabited methane seeps from Costa Rica to Oregon, suggesting a broad distribution in the eastern Pacific. Using phylogenetic analyses of the 18S rRNA gene, two different species of folliculinid were identified. Folliculinids occupied a range of physical substrates, including authigenic carbonate rocks, shells of dead vesicomyid clams, polychaete tubes and gastropod shells. Molecular analysis of folliculinid associated microorganisms (16S rRNA and particulate methane monooxygenase) revealed that these ciliates not only influence overall microbial diversity, but also and have a specific relationship with bacteria in the ‘Deep sea-2’ methanotroph clade. Natural δ13C isotope signatures of folliculinids (-35‰) and their 13C-enrichment patterns in shipboard 13CH4 stable isotope-probing experiments indicated these ciliates and their associated microbes are involved in cycling methane-derived carbon. Folliculinids were significantly enriched in 13C after the addition of 13CH4 over short-term (3-8 day) incubations. Together, these results suggest that folliculinid ciliates represent a previously overlooked contributor to the ecology and biogeochemical cycling of deep-sea methane seep ecosystems.

Bernardino, AF, Levin LA, Thurber AR, Smith CR.  2012.  Comparative composition, diversity and trophic ecology of sediment macrofauna at vents, seeps and organic falls. Plos One. 7   10.1371/journal.pone.0033515   AbstractWebsite

Sediments associated with hydrothermal venting, methane seepage and large organic falls such as whale, wood and plant detritus create deep-sea networks of soft-sediment habitats fueled, at least in part, by the oxidation of reduced chemicals. Biological studies at deep-sea vents, seeps and organic falls have looked at macrofaunal taxa, but there has yet to be a systematic comparison of the community-level attributes of sediment macrobenthos in various reducing ecosystems. Here we review key similarities and differences in the sediment-dwelling assemblages of each system with the goals of (1) generating a predictive framework for the exploration and study of newly identified reducing habitats, and (2) identifying taxa and communities that overlap across ecosystems. We show that deep-sea seep, vent and organic-fall sediments are highly heterogeneous. They sustain different geochemical and microbial processes that are reflected in a complex mosaic of habitats inhabited by a mixture of specialist (heterotrophic and symbiont-associated) and background fauna. Community-level comparisons reveal that vent, seep and organic-fall macrofauna are very distinct in terms of composition at the family level, although they share many dominant taxa among these highly sulphidic habitats. Stress gradients are good predictors of macrofaunal diversity at some sites, but habitat heterogeneity and facilitation often modify community structure. The biogeochemical differences across ecosystems and within habitats result in wide differences in organic utilization (i.e., food sources) and in the prevalence of chemosynthesis-derived nutrition. In the Pacific, vents, seeps and organic-falls exhibit distinct macrofaunal assemblages at broad-scales contributing to beta diversity. This has important implications for the conservation of reducing ecosystems, which face growing threats from human activities.

Breitburg, D, Levin LA, Oschlies A, Grégoire M, Chavez FP, Conley DJ, Garçon V, Gilbert D, Gutiérrez D, Isensee K, Jacinto GS, Limburg KE, Montes I, Naqvi SWA, Pitcher GC, Rabalais NN, Roman MR, Rose KA, Seibel BA, Telszewski M, Yasuhara M, Zhang J.  2018.  Declining oxygen in the global ocean and coastal waters. Science. 359   10.1126/science.aam7240   Abstract

As plastic waste pollutes the oceans and fish stocks decline, unseen below the surface another problem grows: deoxygenation. Breitburg et al. review the evidence for the downward trajectory of oxygen levels in increasing areas of the open ocean and coastal waters. Rising nutrient loads coupled with climate change—each resulting from human activities—are changing ocean biogeochemistry and increasing oxygen consumption. This results in destabilization of sediments and fundamental shifts in the availability of key nutrients. In the short term, some compensatory effects may result in improvements in local fisheries, such as in cases where stocks are squeezed between the surface and elevated oxygen minimum zones. In the longer term, these conditions are unsustainable and may result in ecosystem collapses, which ultimately will cause societal and economic harm.

Ramirez-Llodra, E, Brandt A, Danovaro R, De Mol B, Escobar E, German CR, Levin LA, Arbizu PM, Menot L, Buhl-Mortensen P, Narayanaswamy BE, Smith CR, Tittensor DP, Tyler PA, Vanreusel A, Vecchione M.  2010.  Deep, diverse and definitely different: unique attributes of the world's largest ecosystem. Biogeosciences. 7:2851-2899.   10.5194/bg-7-2851-2010   AbstractWebsite

The deep sea, the largest biome on Earth, has a series of characteristics that make this environment both distinct from other marine and land ecosystems and unique for the entire planet. This review describes these patterns and processes, from geological settings to biological processes, biodiversity and biogeographical patterns. It concludes with a brief discussion of current threats from anthropogenic activities to deep-sea habitats and their fauna. Investigations of deep-sea habitats and their fauna began in the late 19th century. In the intervening years, technological developments and stimulating discoveries have promoted deep-sea research and changed our way of understanding life on the planet. Nevertheless, the deep sea is still mostly unknown and current discovery rates of both habitats and species remain high. The geological, physical and geochemical settings of the deep-sea floor and the water column form a series of different habitats with unique characteristics that support specific faunal communities. Since 1840, 28 new habitats/ecosystems have been discovered from the shelf break to the deep trenches and discoveries of new habitats are still happening in the early 21st century. However, for most of these habitats the global area covered is unknown or has been only very roughly estimated; an even smaller - indeed, minimal - proportion has actually been sampled and investigated. We currently perceive most of the deep-sea ecosystems as heterotrophic, depending ultimately on the flux on organic matter produced in the overlying surface ocean through photosynthesis. The resulting strong food limitation thus shapes deep-sea biota and communities, with exceptions only in reducing ecosystems such as inter alia hydrothermal vents or cold seeps. Here, chemoautolithotrophic bacteria play the role of primary producers fuelled by chemical energy sources rather than sunlight. Other ecosystems, such as seamounts, canyons or cold-water corals have an increased productivity through specific physical processes, such as topographic modification of currents and enhanced transport of particles and detrital matter. Because of its unique abiotic attributes, the deep sea hosts a specialized fauna. Although there are no phyla unique to deep waters, at lower taxonomic levels the composition of the fauna is distinct from that found in the upper ocean. Amongst other characteristic patterns, deep-sea species may exhibit either gigantism or dwarfism, related to the decrease in food availability with depth. Food limitation on the seafloor and water column is also reflected in the trophic structure of heterotrophic deep-sea communities, which are adapted to low energy availability. In most of these heterotrophic habitats, the dominant megafauna is composed of detritivores, while filter feeders are abundant in habitats with hard substrata (e. g. mid-ocean ridges, seamounts, canyon walls and coral reefs). Chemoautotrophy through symbiotic relationships is dominant in reducing habitats. Deep-sea biodiversity is among of the highest on the planet, mainly composed of macro and meiofauna, with high evenness. This is true for most of the continental margins and abyssal plains with hot spots of diversity such as seamounts or cold-water corals. However, in some ecosystems with particularly "extreme" physicochemical processes (e.g. hydrothermal vents), biodiversity is low but abundance and biomass are high and the communities are dominated by a few species. Two large-scale diversity patterns have been discussed for deep-sea benthic communities. First, a unimodal relationship between diversity and depth is observed, with a peak at intermediate depths (2000-3000 m), although this is not universal and particular abiotic processes can modify the trend. Secondly, a poleward trend of decreasing diversity has been discussed, but this remains controversial and studies with larger and more robust data sets are needed. Because of the paucity in our knowledge of habitat coverage and species composition, biogeographic studies are mostly based on regional data or on specific taxonomic groups. Recently, global biogeographic provinces for the pelagic and benthic deep ocean have been described, using environmental and, where data were available, taxonomic information. This classification described 30 pelagic provinces and 38 benthic provinces divided into 4 depth ranges, as well as 10 hydrothermal vent provinces. One of the major issues faced by deep-sea biodiversity and biogeographical studies is related to the high number of species new to science that are collected regularly, together with the slow description rates for these new species. Taxonomic coordination at the global scale is particularly difficult, but is essential if we are to analyse large diversity and biogeographic trends. Because of their remoteness, anthropogenic impacts on deep-sea ecosystems have not been addressed very thoroughly until recently. The depletion of biological and mineral resources on land and in shallow waters, coupled with technological developments, are promoting the increased interest in services provided by deep-water resources. Although often largely unknown, evidence for the effects of human activities in deep-water ecosystems - such as deep-sea mining, hydrocarbon exploration and exploitation, fishing, dumping and littering - is already accumulating. Because of our limited knowledge of deep-sea biodiversity and ecosystem functioning and because of the specific life-history adaptations of many deep-sea species (e. g. slow growth and delayed maturity), it is essential that the scientific community works closely with industry, conservation organisations and policy makers to develop robust and efficient conservation and management options.

Niner, HJ, Ardron JA, Escobar EG, Gianni M, Jaeckel A, Jones DOB, Levin LA, Smith CR, Thiele T, Turner PJ, Vandover CL, Watling L, Gjerde KM.  2018.  Deep-sea mining with no net loss of biodiversity-an impossible aim. Frontiers in Marine Science. 5   10.3389/fmars.2018.00053   AbstractWebsite

Deep-sea mining is likely to result in biodiversity loss, and the significance of this to ecosystem function is not known. "Out of kind" biodiversity offsets substituting one ecosystem type (e.g., coral reefs) for another (e.g., abyssal nodule fields) have been proposed to compensate for such loss. Here we consider a goal of no net loss (NNL) of biodiversity and explore the challenges of applying this aim to deep seabed mining, based on the associated mitigation hierarchy (avoid, minimize, remediate). We conclude that the industry cannot at present deliver an outcome of NNL. This results from the vulnerable nature of deep-sea environments to mining impacts, currently limited technological capacity to minimize harm, significant gaps in ecological knowledge, and uncertainties of recovery potential of deep-sea ecosystems. Avoidance and minimization of impacts are therefore the only presently viable means of reducing biodiversity losses from seabed mining. Because of these constraints, when and if deep-sea mining proceeds, it must be approached in a precautionary and step-wise manner to integrate new and developing knowledge. Each step should be subject to explicit environmental management goals, monitoring protocols, and binding standards to avoid serious environmental harm and minimize loss of biodiversity. "Out of kind" measures, an option for compensation currently proposed, cannot replicate biodiversity and ecosystem services lost through mining of the deep seabed and thus cannot be considered true offsets. The ecosystem functions provided by deep-sea biodiversity contribute to a wide range of provisioning services (e.g., the exploitation of fish, energy, pharmaceuticals, and cosmetics), play an essential role in regulatory services (e.g., carbon sequestration) and are important culturally. The level of "acceptable" biodiversity loss in the deep sea requires public, transparent, and well-informed consideration, as well as wide agreement. If accepted, further agreement on how to assess residual losses remaining after the robust implementation of the mitigation hierarchy is also imperative. To ameliorate some of the inter-generational inequity caused by mining-associated biodiversity losses, and only after all NNL measures have been used to the fullest extent, potential compensatory actions would need to be focused on measures to improve the knowledge and protection of the deep sea and to demonstrate benefits that will endure for future generations.

Demaster, DJ, Thomas CJ, Blair NE, Fornes WL, Plaia G, Levin LA.  2002.  Deposition of bomb (14)C in continental slope sediments of the Mid-Atlantic Bight: assessing organic matter sources and burial rates. Deep-Sea Research Part Ii-Topical Studies in Oceanography. 49:4667-4685.   10.1016/s0967-0645(02)00134-0   AbstractWebsite

As part of the Ocean Margins Program (OMP), organic carbon (14)C measurements have been made on benthic fauna and kasten core sediments from the North Carolina continental slope. These analyses are used to evaluate the nature and burial flux of organic matter in the OMP study area off Cape Hatteras. Despite the fact that surface sediment (14)C contents ranged from -41 to -215 per mil, the benthic fauna (primarily polychactes) all contained significant amounts of bomb-(14)C (body tissue (14)C contents ranging from + 20 to + 82 per mil). Bomb-(14)C clearly is reaching the seabed on the North Carolina slope, and the labile planktonic material carrying this signal is a primary source of nutrition to the benthic ecosystem. The enrichment of (14)C in benthic faunal tissue relative to the (14)C content of bulk surface-sediment organic matter (a difference of similar to 150 per mil) is attributed to a combination of particle selection and selective digestive processes. Organic carbon burial rates from 12 stations on the North Carolina slope varied from 0.02 to 1.7 mol of Cm(-2) yr(-1), with a mean value of 0.7 mol of C m(-2) yr(-1). The accumulation of organic matter on the upper slope accounts for < 1 % of the primary production in the entire continental margin system. The North Carolina margin was deliberately selected because of its potential for offshore transport and high sediment deposition rates, and even in this environment, burial of organic carbon accounts for a very small fraction of the primary production occurring in surface waters. (C) 2002 Elsevier Science Ltd. All rights reserved.

Gooday, AJ, Levin LA, Thomas CL, Hecker B.  1992.  The distribution and ecology of Bathysiphon filiformis sars and B. major de folin (Protista, Foraminiferida) on the continental slope off North Carolina. Journal of Foraminiferal Research. 22:129-146. AbstractWebsite

Two large species of the agglutinated foraminifera genus Bathysiphon are common in samples and photographs from bathyal depths on the North Carolina continental slope: B. filiformis off Cape Hatteras (588-930 m bathymetric depth) and B. major off Cape Lookout (850-1950 m depth). The sampling area, and particularly the 850 m station where B. filiformis is abundant (mean densities of 59-154 per m2), is believed to receive large inputs of organic material from various sources. This is consistent with the previously observed occurrence of large Bathysiphon species in regions of high food supply. Ten camera sled transects across the eastern U.S. continental slope between 32-degrees-N and 41-degrees-N emphasize the abundance of B. filiformis in the Cape Hatteras area compared with its rarity or absence elsewhere along the continental slope. Box cores, bottom photographs, and direct submersible observations indicate that B. filiformis tubes project above the sediment in an arcuate curve with only the lower 1 cm or so buried. Bathysiphon major adopts a similar orientation but has a greater proportion (50-80%) of the tube buried. The voluminous, dense, granular protoplasm of both species contains biogenic particles (including diatoms, in B. filiformis only), dinoflagellate cysts, fungal remains, pollen grains, tintinnid loricae, polychaete jaws and setae, benthic foraminiferal tests, and fish tooth fragments), suggesting that they feed mainly on material derived from the sediment surface. Submersible observations indicate that B. filiformis is patchily distributed at 100 m scales. Smaller scale dispersion patterns (analyzed from photographs) are generally random but with a tendency to be aggregated at lower densities and uniform at higher densities. A variety of metazoans and foraminifers live epifaunally on the outer surfaces of B. filiformis tubes. The most frequently occurring metazoans were larvae and juveniles of an unidentified gastropod and a tubiculous terebellid polychaete Nicolea sp. The most common epifaunal foraminifers were Tritaxis conica and Trochammina sp. Tubes of B. major, however, are virtually devoid of epifauna. Our results support the view that large, agglutinated rhizopod tests may influence the structure of deep-water benthic communities. However, in the case of Bathysiphon on the North Carolina continental slope, the effect appears limited to taxa directly associated with the foraminiferal tubes.

Levin, LA, Mendoza GF, Gonzalez JP, Thurber AR, Cordes EE.  2010.  Diversity of bathyal macrofauna on the northeastern Pacific margin: the influence of methane seeps and oxygen minimum zones. Marine Ecology-an Evolutionary Perspective. 31:94-110.   10.1111/j.1439-0485.2009.00335.x   AbstractWebsite

The upper continental slope in the northeastern Pacific Ocean is intercepted by a deep oxygen minimum zone (OMZ; 650-1100 m) and punctuated by conduits of methane seepage. We examined the effects of these two dominant sources of heterogeneity on the density, composition and diversity of heterotrophic macrofauna off Hydrate Ridge, Oregon (OR; 800 m water depth), where the seeps co-occur within an OMZ, and off the Eel River, Northern California (CA; 500 m), where seeps are overlain by better oxygenated waters. We hypothesized that seeps (containing clam beds and microbial mats) should contribute a suite of distinct species to the regional margin species pool but that OMZ-associated hypoxia would dampen seep-related heterogeneity. Macrofaunal densities were highest (23,000-33,510 ind.m(-2)) in the CA seep sediments and in the OR near-seep samples, intermediate in the OR seep, CA near seep and CA and OR 500-m margin sediments (10,05419,777 ind.m(-2)), and lowest in the CA and OR OMZ habitats at 800 m (42697847 ind.m(-2)). Annelids constituted over 50% of the taxa in all but the CA clam bed and OR microbial mat sediments, where mollusks were abundant. Approximately 50% of seep species appeared to be habitat endemic; species present in microbial mats largely formed a subset of those present in the clam beds. Dorvilleid and ampharetid polychaetes were dominant in the seep sediments; non-seep margin sediments at 500 and 800 m were populated heavily by branckiate polychaetes including cossurids and paraonids. Alpha diversity (Es[20] calculated per core) was lowest and rank 1 dominance was highest in the CA and OR microbial mat habitats. Pooled analyses of Es[100] revealed highest species richness in the CA clam bed and near-seep habitats (30.3 and 29.6, respectively), and lowest species richness in the OR microbial mat and near-seep habitats (16.5 and 17.9, respectively). Non-seep sediments (500 and 800 m) off both CA and OR were more homogeneous (55-57% within-habitat similarity) than clam bed and microbial mat sediments (only 32-37% within-habitat similarity). CA sediment macrofauna generally exhibit higher alpha diversity, and as habitats are combined, a higher rate of increase in the slope of the species accumulation curves than do OR margin macrofauna. Methane seeps in the NE Pacific introduce significant heterogeneity that increases margin biodiversity at multiple spatial scales. However, our hypothesis that the OMZ would lessen the seep contributions to diversity was not supported. The better oxygenated CA seeps at 500 in shared more of the background margin fauna (at 500 m) than did the OR seeps at 800 m (with OMZ fauna at 800 in). Geographical differences in the fluxes of methane-rich fluids and the increased reliance on chemosynthetic food sources with increased depth could explain these results.

Rabalais, NN, Diaz RJ, Levin LA, Turner RE, Gilbert D, Zhang J.  2010.  Dynamics and distribution of natural and human-caused hypoxia. Biogeosciences. 7:585-619. AbstractWebsite

Water masses can become undersaturated with oxygen when natural processes alone or in combination with anthropogenic processes produce enough organic carbon that is aerobically decomposed faster than the rate of oxygen re-aeration. The dominant natural processes usually involved are photosynthetic carbon production and microbial respiration. The re-supply rate is indirectly related to its isolation from the surface layer. Hypoxic water masses (< 2 mg L(-1), or approximately 30% saturation) can form, therefore, under 'natural' conditions, and are more likely to occur in marine systems when the water residence time is extended, water exchange and ventilation are minimal, stratification occurs, and where carbon production and export to the bottom layer are relatively high. Hypoxia has occurred through geological time and naturally occurs in oxygen minimum zones, deep basins, eastern boundary upwelling systems, and fjords. Hypoxia development and continuation in many areas of the world's coastal ocean is accelerated by human activities, especially where nutrient loading increased in the Anthropocene. This higher loading set in motion a cascading set of events related to eutrophication. The formation of hypoxic areas has been exacerbated by any combination of interactions that increase primary production and accumulation of organic carbon leading to increased respiratory demand for oxygen below a seasonal or permanent pycnocline. Nutrient loading is likely to increase further as population growth and resource intensification rises, especially with increased dependency on crops using fertilizers, burning of fossil fuels, urbanization, and waste water generation. It is likely that the occurrence and persistence of hypoxia will be even more widespread and have more impacts than presently observed. Global climate change will further complicate the causative factors in both natural and human-caused hypoxia. The likelihood of strengthened stratification alone, from increased surface water temperature as the global climate warms, is sufficient to worsen hypoxia where it currently exists and facilitate its formation in additional waters. Increased precipitation that increases freshwater discharge and flux of nutrients will result in increased primary production in the receiving waters up to a point. The interplay of increased nutrients and stratification where they occur will aggravate and accelerate hypoxia. Changes in wind fields may expand oxygen minimum zones onto more continental shelf areas. On the other hand, not all regions will experience increased precipitation, some oceanic water temperatures may decrease as currents shift, and frequency and severity of tropical storms may increase and temporarily disrupt hypoxia more often. The consequences of global warming and climate change are effectively uncontrollable at least in the near term. On the other hand, the consequences of eutrophication-induced hypoxia can be reversed if long-term, broad-scale, and persistent efforts to reduce substantial nutrient loads are developed and implemented. In the face of globally expanding hypoxia, there is a need for water and resource managers to act now to reduce nutrient loads to maintain, at least, the current status.

Levin, LA, Ziebis W, Mendoza GF, Bertics VJ, Washington T, Gonzalez J, Thurber AR, Ebbed B, Lee RW.  2013.  Ecological release and niche partitioning under stress: Lessons from dorvilleid polychaetes in sulfidic sediments at methane seeps. Deep-Sea Research Part Ii-Topical Studies in Oceanography. 92:214-233.   10.1016/j.dsr2.2013.02.006   AbstractWebsite

Organisms inhabiting methane seep sediments are exposed to stress in the form of high levels of hydrogen sulfide, which result mainly from sulfate reduction coupled to anaerobic methane oxidation. Dorvilleidae (Polychaeta) have successfully invaded this ecosystem, and multiple species in divergent genetic clades co-occur at high densities. At methane seeps in the NE Pacific off California and Oregon, the genera Ophryotrocha, Parougia and Exallopus are especially well represented. To test the hypothesis that dorvilleid coexistence is facilitated by niche partitioning through sulfide tolerance and trophic patterns, we examined dorvilleid species-specific patterns of occurrence and nutrition at methane seeps off Eel R. [ER] on the Californian continental slope and at Hydrate Ridge [HR] on the Oregon continental slope, and in two habitats (clam bed and microbial mat) characterized by lower and higher hydrogen sulfide levels, respectively. Microelectrode measurements of hydrogen sulfide enabled characterization of environmental sulfide levels for species sampled in background sediment cores and in colonization trays. Dorvilleids tolerated H2S levels from 10 mu M to over 2.6 mM, with the majority of species inhabiting sediments with similar environmental H2S concentrations (median 85-100 mu M). Dorvilleid species richness was greater at HR than ER, but did not differ between clam bed and microbial mat habitats. Species distribution patterns reflected preferences for ER clam bed (lower sulfide levels), ER mat and HR clam bed (moderate sulfide levels), or HR mat (very high sulfide levels). Nutritional patterns, including trophic diversity and functional similarity, were examined using community stable isotope metrics based on delta N-15 and delta C-13. Within each region, dorvilleid species exhibited multiple trophic strategies. Co-existing congeners typically exhibited distinct isotope signatures, suggesting trophic partitioning. Trophic diversity and delta N-15 range for whole assemblages (measured by Total Hull Area and Standard Elliptical Area using species averages) and functional redundancy or species packing (measured as distance to nearest neighbor) among species and individuals were generally higher at ER, where sulfide levels were lower than at HR. In contrast, average trophic diversity among individuals within a species was greater at HR than ER. In colonization experiments involving agar-based manipulations of sulfide in tray sediments that mimicked clam bed and mat conditions, dorvilleids comprised 68% and 48% of colonists at ER and HR, respectively. Dorvilleid species richness was higher in trays that were initially more sulfidic. However, habitat exerted stronger influence on the composition of colonizing dorvilleids than did sulfide additions. In the NE Pacific, regional, habitat and vertical (down-core) variation in hydrogen sulfide creates complex environmental heterogeneity at methane seeps, promoting high diversity of stress-tolerant taxa such as dorvilleid polychaetes. (C) 2013 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

Levin, LA, McCann LD, Thomas CL.  1991.  The ecology of polychaetes on deep seamounts in the eastern Pacific Ocean. Ophelia. :467-476. AbstractWebsite

Polychaetes were collected by the submersible ALVIN on 18 deep (788-3,353 m) seamounts in the eastern Pacific Ocean at 10-degrees, 13-degrees, 20-degrees and 30-degrees N off western Mexico. Polychaetes comprised 57.7% of all macrofauna collected. Average density over all locations was 942 polychaetes/m2. Thirty-eight families were represented among the 1,422 infaunal polychaetes collected. Five families, the Paraonidae, Cirratulidae, Syllidae, Ampharetidae, and Sabellidae, attained average densities > 1 individual/196 cm2 core. We evaluated effects of latitude, local setting, depth, and substrate on polychaete abundance, taxonomic composition, and lifestyles. Unusually high polychaete densities (7,194/m2) and low diversities were observed in a shallow caldera (788 m) at 13-degrees N. Excluding this site, the latitude exhibiting the highest polychaete densities (xBAR = 939/m2) was 10-degrees N. Of the seven settings examined, pit craters (within seamount calderas) supported the highest densities (xBAR = 1031/m2), and hydrothermal oxide fields and seamount bases exhibited the lowest polychaete densities (xBAR = 576-612/m2). Rippled foraminiferal sands on volcano summits supported large numbers of filter feeders, particularly sabellids. Regressions of total polychaete abundance on depth and on percent sand were not significant. Large, epifaunal, sediment-agglutinating protozoans (Phylum Sarcodina: Class Xenophyophorea) provided habitat for 34 polychaete species. Polychaete abundance and family composition were generally similar to those reported for other nearshore, deep-sea environments at comparable depths. With the exception of the shallowest site, species richness was typically high.

Levin, LA, Thomas CL.  1988.  The ecology of xenophyophores (Protista) on eastern Pacific seamounts. Deep-Sea Research Part a-Oceanographic Research Papers. 35:2003-2027.   10.1016/0198-0149(88)90122-7   AbstractWebsite

Large, agglutinating protozoans of the class Xenophyophorea are the dominant epifaunal organisms on soft and hard substrates of many bathyal seamounts in the eastern Pacific Ocean off Mexico. Observations made with the submersible Alvin and remotely towed camera sleds on 17 seamounts at 31°, 20°, 13° and 10°N revealed more than ten distinct xenophyophore test morphologies. Most of these appear to represent previously undescribed species. Reticulate forms are numerically dominant at 20°, 13° and 10°N. Xenophyophore abundances increase with decreasing latitude, being rare at 30°N, present at densities of 0.1–1.0 m−2 at 20° and 13°N and often exceeding 1.0 m−2 at 10°N, occasionally reaching 10–18 m−2. Highest concentrations are observed on caldera floors near the base of steep caldera walls, at depths between 1700 and 2500 m. Most individuals select sand-size pelagic foraminiferan tests (63–500 μm) and exclude pebble, silt and clay-size particles for test construction.Xenophyophore on seamounts modify the structure of metazoan communities and may play a role in maintenance of infaunal diversity. Twenty-seven xenophyophore tests were found to provide habitat for 16 major macrofaunal taxa (152 individuals) and three meiofaunal taxa (333 individuals). The presence of xenophyophores also enhances the abundance of isopods, tanaids, ophiuroids, nematodes and harpacticoid copepods dwelling in sediments surrounding the tests. Mobile megafauna are attracted to sediment beneath and adjacent to xenophyophores. We suggest that xenophyophores, which are abundant on many topographic features in deep water (e.g. guyots, trenches, canyons and continental slopes), are a functionally important component of deep-sea benthic communities and require further autecological and synecological investigation.