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Lu, WH, Cusack C, Baker M, Wang T, Chen MB, Paige K, Zhang XF, Levin L, Escobar E, Amon D, Yin Y, Reitz A, Neves AAS, O'Rourke E, Mannarini G, Pearlman J, Tinker J, Horsburgh KJ, Lehodey P, Pouliquen S, Dale T, Zhao P, Yang YF.  2019.  Successful blue economy examples with an emphasis on international perspectives. Frontiers in Marine Science. 6   10.3389/fmars.2019.00261   AbstractWebsite

Careful definition and illustrative case studies are fundamental work in developing a Blue Economy. As blue research expands with the world increasingly understanding its importance, policy makers and research institutions worldwide concerned with ocean and coastal regions are demanding further and improved analysis of the Blue Economy. Particularly, in terms of the management connotation, data access, monitoring, and product development, countries are making decisions according to their own needs. As a consequence of this lack of consensus, further dialogue including this cases analysis of the blue economy is even more necessary. This paper consists of four chapters: (I) Understanding the concept of Blue Economy, (II) Defining Blue economy theoretical cases, (III) Introducing Blue economy application cases and (IV) Providing an outlook for the future. Chapters (II) and (III) summarizes all the case studies into nine aspects, each aiming to represent different aspects of the blue economy. This paper is a result of knowledge and experience collected from across the global ocean observing community, and is only made possible with encouragement, support and help of all members. Despite the blue economy being a relatively new concept, we have demonstrated our promising exploration in a number of areas. We put forward proposals for the development of the blue economy, including shouldering global responsibilities to protect marine ecological environment, strengthening international communication and sharing development achievements, and promoting the establishment of global blue partnerships. However, there is clearly much room for further development in terms of the scope and depth of our collective understanding and analysis.

Mullineaux, LS, Metaxas A, Beaulieu SE, Bright M, Gollner S, Grupe BM, Herrera S, Kellner JB, Levin LA, Mitarai S, Neubert MG, Thurnherr AM, Tunnicliffe V, Watanabe HK, Won YJ.  2018.  Exploring the ecology of deep-sea hydrothermal vents in a metacommunity framework. Frontiers in Marine Science. 5   10.3389/fmars.2018.00049   AbstractWebsite

Species inhabiting deep-sea hydrothermal vents are strongly influenced by the geological setting, as it provides the chemical-rich fluids supporting the food web, creates the patchwork of seafloor habitat, and generates catastrophic disturbances that can eradicate entire communities. The patches of vent habitat host a network of communities (a metacommunity) connected by dispersal of planktonic larvae. The dynamics of the metacommunity are influenced not only by birth rates, death rates and interactions of populations at the local site, but also by regional influences on dispersal from different sites. The connections to other communities provide a mechanism for dynamics at a local site to affect features of the regional biota. In this paper, we explore the challenges and potential benefits of applying metacommunity theory to vent communities, with a particular focus on effects of disturbance. We synthesize field observations to inform models and identify data gaps that need to be addressed to answer key questions including: (1) what is the influence of the magnitude and rate of disturbance on ecological attributes, such as time to extinction or resilience in ametacommunity; (2) what interactions between local and regional processes control species diversity, and (3) which communities are "hot spots" of key ecological significance. We conclude by assessing our ability to evaluate resilience of vent metacommunities to human disturbance (e.g., deep-sea mining). Although the resilience of a few highly disturbed vent systems in the eastern Pacific has been quantified, these values cannot be generalized to remote locales in the western Pacific ormid Atlantic where disturbance rates are different and information on local controls is missing.

Sato, KN, Andersson AJ, Day JMD, Taylor JRA, Frank MB, Jung JY, McKittrick J, Levin LA.  2018.  Response of sea urchin fitness traits to environmental gradients across the Southern California oxygen minimum zone. Frontiers in Marine Science. 5   10.3389/fmars.2018.00258   AbstractWebsite

Marine calcifiers are considered to be among the most vulnerable taxa to climate-forced environmental changes occurring on continental margins with effects hypothesized to occur on microstructural, biomechanical, and geochemical properties of carbonate structures. Natural gradients in temperature, salinity, oxygen, and pH on an upwelling margin combined with the broad depth distribution (100-1,100 m) of the pink fragile sea urchin, Strongylocentrotus (formerly Allocentrotus) fragilis, along the southern California shelf and slope provide an ideal system to evaluate potential effects of multiple climate variables on carbonate structures in situ. We measured, for the first time, trait variability across four distinct depth zones using natural gradients as analogues for species-specific implications of oxygen minimum zone (OMZ) expansion, deoxygenation and ocean acidification. Although S. fragilis may likely be tolerant of future oxygen and pH decreases predicted during the twenty-first century, we determine from adults collected across multiple depth zones that urchin size and potential reproductive fitness (gonad index) are drastically reduced in the OMZ core (450-900 m) compared to adjacent zones. Increases in porosity and mean pore size coupled with decreases in mechanical nanohardness and stiffness of the calcitic endoskeleton in individuals collected from lower pH(Total) (7.57-7.59) and lower dissolved oxygen (13-42 mu mol kg(-1)) environments suggest that S. fragilis may be potentially vulnerable to crushing predators if these conditions become more widespread in the future. In addition, elemental composition indicates that S. fragilis has a skeleton composed of the low Mg-calcite mineral phase of calcium carbonate (mean Mg/Ca = 0.02 mol mol(-1)), with Mg/Ca values measured in the lower end of values reported for sea urchins known to date. Together these findings suggest that ongoing declines in oxygen and pH will likely affect the ecology and fitness of a dominant echinoid on the California margin.

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.

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.

Sweetman, AK, Thurber AR, Smith CR, Levin LA, Mora C, Wei CL, Gooday AJ, Jones DOB, Rex M, Yasuhara M, Ingels J, Ruhl HA, Frieder CA, Danovaro R, Wurzberg L, Baco A, Grupe BM, Pasulka A, Meyer KS, Dunlop KM, Henry LA, Roberts JM.  2017.  Major impacts of climate change on deep-sea benthic ecosystems. Elementa-Science of the Anthropocene. 5:1-23.   10.1525/elementa.203   AbstractWebsite

The deep sea encompasses the largest ecosystems on Earth. Although poorly known, deep seafloor ecosystems provide services that are vitally important to the entire ocean and biosphere. Rising atmospheric greenhouse gases are bringing about significant changes in the environmental properties of the ocean realm in terms of water column oxygenation, temperature, pH and food supply, with concomitant impacts on deep-sea ecosystems. Projections suggest that abyssal (3000-6000 m) ocean temperatures could increase by 1 degrees C over the next 84 years, while abyssal seafloor habitats under areas of deep-water formation may experience reductions in water column oxygen concentrations by as much as 0.03 mL L-1 by 2100. Bathyal depths (200-3000 m) worldwide will undergo the most significant reductions in pH in all oceans by the year 2100 (0.29 to 0.37 pH units). O-2 concentrations will also decline in the bathyal NE Pacific and Southern Oceans, with losses up to 3.7% or more, especially at intermediate depths. Another important environmental parameter, the flux of particulate organic matter to the seafloor, is likely to decline significantly in most oceans, most notably in the abyssal and bathyal Indian Ocean where it is predicted to decrease by 40-55% by the end of the century. Unfortunately, how these major changes will affect deep-seafloor ecosystems is, in some cases, very poorly understood. In this paper, we provide a detailed overview of the impacts of these changing environmental parameters on deep-seafloor ecosystems that will most likely be seen by 2100 in continental margin, abyssal and polar settings. We also consider how these changes may combine with other anthropogenic stressors (e.g., fishing, mineral mining, oil and gas extraction) to further impact deep-seafloor ecosystems and discuss the possible societal implications.

Hansman, RL, Thurber AR, Levin LA, Aluwihare LI.  2017.  Methane fates in the benthos and water column at cold seep sites along the continental margin of Central and North America. Deep-Sea Research Part I-Oceanographic Research Papers. 120:122-131.   10.1016/j.dsr.2016.12.016   AbstractWebsite

The potential influence of methane seeps on carbon cycling is a key question for global assessments, but the study of carbon cycling in surface sediments and the water column of cold seep environments is complicated by the high temporal and spatial variability of fluid and gas fluxes at these sites. In this study we directly examined carbon sources supporting benthic and planktonic food webs at venting methane seeps using isotopic and molecular approaches that integrate this variability. At four seep environments located along North and Central America, microorganisms from two size fractions were collected over several days from 2800 to 90501 of seawater to provide a time-integrated measure of key microbial groups and the carbon sources supporting the overall planktonic microbial community. In addition to water column measurements, the extent of seafloor methane release was estimated at two of the sites by examining the stable carbon isotopic signature (delta C-13) of benthic metazoan infauna. This signature reveals carbon sources fueling the base of the food chain and thus provides a metric that represents a time-integrated view of the dominant microbial processes within the sediment. The stable carbon isotopic composition of microbial DNA (delta C-13-DNA), which had values between -17.0 and -19.5%(0), indicated that bulk planktonic microbial production was not ultimately linked to methane or other C-13-depleted seep-derived carbon sources. Instead these data support the importance of organic carbon derived from either photo- or chemoautotrophic CO2 fixation to the planktonic food web. Results of qPCR of microbial DNA sequences coding for a subunit of the particulate methane monooxygenase gene (pmoA) showed that only a small percentage of the planktonic microbial community were potential methane oxidizers possessing pmoA (< 5% of 16S rRNA gene copies). There was an overall decrease of C-13-depleted carbon fueling the benthic metazoan community from 3 to 5 cm below the seafloor to the sediment surface, reflecting limited use of isotopically depleted carbon at the sediment surface. Rare methane emission as indicated by limited aerobic methane oxidation acts to corroborate our findings for the planktonic microbial community.

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.

Levin, LA, Baco AR, Bowden DA, Colaco A, Cordes EE, Cunha MR, Demopoulos AWJ, Gobin J, Grupe BM, Le J, Metaxas A, Netburn AN, Rouse GW, Thurber AR, Tunnicliffe V, Van Dover CL, Vanreusel A, Watling L.  2016.  Hydrothermal vents and methane seeps: Rethinking the sphere of influence. Frontiers in Marine Science. 3   10.3389/fmars.2016.00072   AbstractWebsite

Although initially viewed as oases within a barren deep ocean, hydrothermal vent and methane seep communities are now recognized to interact with surrounding ecosystems on the sea floor and in the water column, and to affect global geochemical cycles. The importance of understanding these interactions is growing as the potential rises for disturbance from oil and gas extraction, seabed mining and bottom trawling. Here we synthesize current knowledge of the nature, extent and time and space scales of vent and seep interactions with background systems. We document an expanded footprint beyond the site of local venting or seepage with respect to elemental cycling and energy flux, habitat use, trophic interactions, and connectivity. Heat and energy are released, global biogeochemical and elemental cycles are modified, and particulates are transported widely in plumes. Hard and biotic substrates produced at vents and seeps are used by “benthic background” fauna for attachment substrata, shelter, and access to food via grazing or through position in the current, while particulates and fluid fluxes modify planktonic microbial communities. Chemosynthetic production provides nutrition to a host of benthic and planktonic heterotrophic background species through multiple horizontal and vertical transfer pathways assisted by flow, gamete release, animal movements, and succession, but these pathways remain poorly known. Shared species, genera and families indicate that ecological and evolutionary connectivity exists among vents, seeps, organic falls and background communities in the deep sea; the genetic linkages with inactive vents and seeps and background assemblages however, are practically unstudied. The waning of venting or seepage activity generates major transitions in space and time that create links to surrounding ecosystems, often with identifiable ecotones or successional stages. The nature of all these interactions is dependent on water depth, as well as regional oceanography and biodiversity. Many ecosystem services are associated with the interactions and transitions between chemosynthetic and background ecosystems, for example carbon cycling and sequestration, fisheries production, and a host of non-market and cultural services. The quantification of the sphere of influence of vents and seeps could be beneficial to better management of deep-sea environments in the face of growing industrialization.

Askarizadeh, A, Rippy MA, Fletcher TD, Feldman DL, Peng J, Bowler P, Mehring AS, Winfrey BK, Vrugt JA, AghaKouchak A, Jiang SC, Sanders BF, Levin LA, Taylor S, Grant SB.  2015.  From rain tanks to catchments: Use of low-impact development to address hydrologic symptoms of the urban stream syndrome. Environmental Science & Technology. 49:11264-11280.   10.1021/acs.est.5b01635   AbstractWebsite

Catchment urbanization perturbs the water and sediment budgets of streams, degrades stream health and function, and causes a constellation of flow, water quality, and ecological symptoms collectively known as the urban stream syndrome. Low-impact development (LID) technologies address the hydrologic symptoms of the urban stream syndrome by mimicking natural flow paths and restoring a natural water balance. Over annual time scales, the volumes of stormwater that should be infiltrated and harvested can be estimated from a catchment-scale water-balance given local climate conditions and preurban land cover. For all but the wettest regions of the world, a much larger volume of stormwater runoff should be harvested than infiltrated to maintain stream hydrology in a preurban state. Efforts to prevent or reverse hydrologic symptoms associated with the urban stream syndrome will therefore require: (1) selecting the right mix of LID technologies that provide regionally tailored ratios of stormwater harvesting and infiltration; (2) integrating these LID technologies into next-generation drainage systems; (3) maximizing potential cobenefits including water supply augmentation, flood protection, improved water quality, and urban amenities; and (4) long-term hydrologic monitoring to evaluate the efficacy of LID interventions.

Ramirez-Llodra, E, Trannum HC, Evenset A, Levin LA, Andersson M, Finne TE, Hilario A, Flem B, Christensen G, Schaanning M, Vanreusel A.  2015.  Submarine and deep-sea mine tailing placements: A review of current practices, environmental issues, natural analogs and knowledge gaps in Norway and internationally. Marine Pollution Bulletin. 97:13-35.   10.1016/j.marpolbul.2015.05.062   AbstractWebsite

The mining sector is growing in parallel with societal demands for minerals. One of the most important environmental issues and economic burdens of industrial mining on land is the safe storage of the vast amounts of waste produced. Traditionally, tailings have been stored in land dams, but the lack of land availability, potential risk of dam failure and topography in coastal areas in certain countries results in increasing disposal of tailings into marine systems. This review describes the different submarine tailing disposal methods used in the world in general and in Norway in particular, their impact on the environment (e.g. hyper-sedimentation, toxicity, processes related to changes in grain shape and size, turbidity), current legislation and need for future research. Understanding these impacts on the habitat and biota is essential to assess potential ecosystem changes and to develop best available techniques and robust management plans. (C) 2015 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

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.

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.

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.

Zapata-Hernandez, G, Sellanes J, Thurber AR, Levin LA.  2014.  Trophic structure of the bathyal benthos at an area with evidence of methane seep activity off southern Chile (similar to 45 degrees S). Journal of the Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom. 94:659-669.   10.1017/s0025315413001914   AbstractWebsite

Through application of carbon (C) and nitrogen (N) stable isotope analyses, we investigated the benthic trophic structure of the upper-slope off southern Chile (similar to 45 degrees S) including a recent methane seep area discovered as part of this study. The observed fauna comprised 53 invertebrates and seven fish taxa, including remains of chemosymbiotic fauna (e.g. chemosymbiotic bivalves and siboglinid polychaetes), which are typical of methane seep environments. While in close-proximity to a seep, the heterotrophic fauna had a nutrition derived predominantly from photosynthetic sources (delta C-13 > -21 parts per thousand). The absence of chemosynthesis-based nutrition in the consumers was likely a result of using an Agassiz trawl to sample the benthos, a method that is likely to collect a mix of fauna including individuals from adjacent non-seep bathyal environments. While four trophic levels were estimated for invertebrates, the fish assemblage was positioned within the third trophic level of the food web. Differences in corrected standard ellipse area (SEA(C)), which is a proxy of the isotopic niche width, yielded differences for the demersal fish Notophycis marginata (SEA(C) = 5.1 parts per thousand) and Coelorinchus fasciatus (SEA(C) = 1.1 parts per thousand), suggesting distinct trophic behaviours. No ontogenic changes were detected in C. fasciatus regarding food sources and trophic position. The present study contributes the first basic trophic data for the bathyal area off southern Chile, including the identification of a new methane seep area, among the furthest south ever discovered. Such information provides the basis for the proper sustainable management of the benthic environments present along the vast Chilean continental margin.

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.

Zapata-Hernandez, G, Sellanes J, Thurber AR, Levin LA, Chazalon F, Linke P.  2014.  New insights on the trophic ecology of bathyal communities from the methane seep area off Concepcion, Chile (similar to 36 degrees S). Marine Ecology-an Evolutionary Perspective. 35:1-21.   10.1111/maec.12051   AbstractWebsite

Studies of the trophic structure in methane-seep habitats provide insight into the ecological function of deep-sea ecosystems. Methane seep biota on the Chilean margin likely represent a novel biogeographic province; however, little is known about the ecology of the seep fauna and particularly their trophic support. The present study, using natural abundance stable isotopes, reveals a complex trophic structure among heterotrophic consumers, with four trophic levels supported by a diversity of food sources at a methane seep area off Concepcion, Chile (similar to 36 degrees S). Although methanotrophy, thiotrophy and phototrophy are all identified as carbon fixation mechanisms fueling the food web within this area, most of the analysed species (87.5%) incorporate carbon derived from photosynthesis and a smaller number (12%) use carbon derived from chemosynthesis. Methane-derived carbon (MDC) incorporation was documented in 22 taxa, including sipunculids, gastropods, polychaetes and echinoderms. In addition, wide trophic niches were detected in suspension-feeding and deposit-feeding taxa, possibly associated with the use of organic matter in different stages of degradation (e.g. from fresh to refractory). Estimates of Bayesian standard ellipses area (SEA(B)) reveal different isotopic niche breadth in the predator fishes, the Patagonian toothfish Dissostichus eleginoides and the combtooth dogfish Centroscyllium nigrum, suggesting generalist versus specialist feeding behaviors, respectively. Top predators in the ecosystem were the Patagonian toothfish D. eleginoides and the dusky cat shark, Bythaelurus canescens. The blue hake Antimora rostrata also provides a trophic link between the benthic and pelagic systems, with a diet based primarily on pelagic-derived carrion. These findings can inform accurate ecosystem models, which are critical for effective management and conservation of methane seep and adjacent deep-sea habitats in the Southeastern Pacific.

Thurber, AR, Levin LA, Rowden AA, Sommer S, Linke P, Kroger K.  2013.  Microbes, macrofauna, and methane: A novel seep community fueled by aerobic methanotrophy. Limnology and Oceanography. 58:1640-1656.   10.4319/lo.2013.58.5.1640   AbstractWebsite

During the discovery and description of seven New Zealand methane seep sites, an infaunal assemblage dominated by ampharetid polychaetes was found in association with high seabed methane emission. This ampharetid-bed assemblage had a mean density of 57,000 +/- 7800 macrofaunal individuals m(-2) and a maximum wet biomass of 274 g m(-2), both being among the greatest recorded from deep-sea methane seeps. We investigated these questions: Does the species assemblage present within these ampharetid beds form a distinct seep community on the New Zealand margin? and What type of chemoautotrophic microbes fuel this heterotrophic community? Unlike the other macro-infaunal assemblages, the ampharetid-bed assemblage composition was homogeneous, independent of location. Based on a mixing model of species-specific mass and isotopic composition, combined with published respiration measurements, we estimated that this community consumes 29-90 mmol C m(-2) d(-1) of methane-fueled biomass; this is > 290 times the carbon fixed by anaerobic methane oxidizers in these ampharetid beds. A fatty acid biomarker approach supported the finding that this community, unlike those previously known, consumes primarily aerobic methanotrophic bacteria. Due to the novel microbial fueling and high methane flux rates, New Zealand's ampharetid beds provide a model system to study the influence of metazoan grazing on microbially mediated biogeochemical cycles, including those that involve greenhouse gas emissions.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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

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.

Hofmann, GE, Smith JE, Johnson KS, Send U, Levin LA, Micheli F, Paytan A, Price NN, Peterson B, Takeshita Y, Matson PG, Crook ED, Kroeker KJ, Gambi MC, Rivest EB, Frieder CA, Yu PC, Martz TR.  2011.  High-Frequency Dynamics of Ocean pH: A Multi-Ecosystem Comparison. Plos One. 6   10.1371/journal.pone.0028983   AbstractWebsite

The effect of Ocean Acidification (OA) on marine biota is quasi-predictable at best. While perturbation studies, in the form of incubations under elevated pCO(2), reveal sensitivities and responses of individual species, one missing link in the OA story results from a chronic lack of pH data specific to a given species' natural habitat. Here, we present a compilation of continuous, high-resolution time series of upper ocean pH, collected using autonomous sensors, over a variety of ecosystems ranging from polar to tropical, open-ocean to coastal, kelp forest to coral reef. These observations reveal a continuum of month-long pH variability with standard deviations from 0.004 to 0.277 and ranges spanning 0.024 to 1.430 pH units. The nature of the observed variability was also highly site-dependent, with characteristic diel, semi-diurnal, and stochastic patterns of varying amplitudes. These biome-specific pH signatures disclose current levels of exposure to both high and low dissolved CO2, often demonstrating that resident organisms are already experiencing pH regimes that are not predicted until 2100. Our data provide a first step toward crystallizing the biophysical link between environmental history of pH exposure and physiological resilience of marine organisms to fluctuations in seawater CO2. Knowledge of this spatial and temporal variation in seawater chemistry allows us to improve the design of OA experiments: we can test organisms with a priori expectations of their tolerance guardrails, based on their natural range of exposure. Such hypothesis-testing will provide a deeper understanding of the effects of OA. Both intuitively simple to understand and powerfully informative, these and similar comparative time series can help guide management efforts to identify areas of marine habitat that can serve as refugia to acidification as well as areas that are particularly vulnerable to future ocean change.