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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, 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.

Levin, LA.  2005.  Ecology of cold seep sediments: Interactions of fauna with flow, chemistry and microbes. Oceanography and Marine Biology - an Annual Review, Vol. 43. 43( Gibson RN, Atkinson RJA, Gordon JDM, Eds.).:1-46., Boca Raton: Crc Press-Taylor & Francis Group Abstract

Cold seeps occur in geologically active and passive continental margins, where pore waters enriched in methane are forced upward through the sediments by pressure gradients. The advective supply of methane leads to dense microbial communities with high metabolic rates. Anaerobic methane oxidation presumably coupled to sulphate reduction facilitates formation of carbonates and, in many places, generates extremely high concentrations of hydrogen sulphide in pore waters. Increased food supply, availability of hard substratum and high concentrations of methane and sulphide supplied to free-living and symbiotic bacteria provide the basis for the complex ecosystems found at these sites. This review examines the structures of animal communities in seep sediments and how they are shaped by hydrologic, geochemical and microbial processes. The full size range of biota is addressed but emphasis is on the mid-size sediment-dwelling infauna (foraminiferans, metazoan meiofauna and macrofauna), which have received less attention than megafauna or microbes. Megafaunal biomass at seeps, which far exceeds that of surrounding non-seep sediments, is dominated by bivalves (mytilids, vesicomyids, lucinids and thyasirids) and vestimentiferan tube worms, with pogonophorans, cladorhizid sponges, gastropods and shrimp sometimes abundant. In contrast, seep sediments at shelf and upper slope depths have infaunal densities that often differ very little from those in ambient sediments. At greater depths, seep infauna exhibit enhanced densities, modified composition and reduced diversity relative to background sediments. Dorvilleid, hesionid and ampharetid polychaetes, nematodes, and calcareous foraminiferans are dominant. There is extensive spatial heterogeneity of microbes and higher organisms at seeps. Specialized infaunal communities are associated with different seep habitats (microbial mats, clam beds, mussel beds and tube worms aggregations) and with different vertical zones in the sediment. Whereas fluid flow and associated porewater properties, in particular sulphide concentration, appear to regulate the distribution, physiological adaptations and sometimes behaviour of many seep biota, sometimes the reverse is true. Animal-microbe interactions at seeps are complex and involve symbioses, heterotrophic nutrition, geochemical feedbacks and habitat structure. Nutrition of seep fauna varies, with thiotrophic and methanotrophic symbiotic bacteria fueling most of the megafaunal forms but macrofauna and most meiofauna are mainly heterotrophic. Macrofaunal food sources are largely photosynthesis-based at shallower seeps but reflect carbon fixation by chemosynthesis and considerable incorporation of methane-derived C at deeper seeps. Export of seep carbon appears to be highly localized based on limited studies in the Gulf of Mexico. Seep ecosystems remain one of the ocean's true frontiers. Seep sediments represent some of the most extreme marine conditions and offer unbounded opportunities for discovery in the realms of animal-microbe-geochemical interactions, physiology, trophic ecology, biogeography, systematics and evolution.

Robinson, CA, Bernhard JM, Levin LA, Mendoza GF, Blanks JK.  2004.  Surficial hydrocarbon seep infauna from the Blake Ridge (Atlantic Ocean, 2150 m) and the Gulf of Mexico (690-2240 m). Marine Ecology-Pubblicazioni Della Stazione Zoologica Di Napoli I. 25:313-336.   10.1111/j.1439-0485.2004.00034.x   AbstractWebsite

Infauna, including foraminifera and metazoans, were enumerated and identified from five types of seep habitats and two adjacent non-seep habitats. Collections were made with the deep submergence research vessel 'Alvin' from three areas of active seepage in the Gulf of Mexico (Alaminos Canyon [2220 m], Atwater Canyon [1930 m], and Green Canyon lease block 272 [700 m]) and on the Blake Ridge Diapir [2250 m], which is located off the southeastern coast of the United States. The seep habitats sampled included four types of microbial mats (Beggiatoa, Thioploca, thin and thick Arcobacter) and the periphery of a large mussel bed. Sediments under large rhizopod protists, xenophyophores, were sampled adjacent to the mussel bed periphery. A non-seep site, which was >1 km away from active seeps, was also sampled for comparison. Densities of most taxa were higher in the Gulf of Mexico seeps than in Blake Ridge samples, largely because densities in the thick microbial mats of Blake Ridge were significantly lower. Diversity was higher in the Thioploca mats compared to other microbial-mat types. Within an ocean basin (i.e., Atlantic, Gulf of Mexico) we did not observe significant differences in meiofaunal or macrofaunal composition in Beggiatoa versus Thioploca mats or thin versus thick Arcobacter mats. Foraminifera represented up to 16% of the seep community, a proportion that is comparable to their contribution at adjacent non-seep communities. In general, the observed densities and taxonomic composition of seep sites at the genus level was consistent with previous observations from seeps (e.g., the foraminifers Bolivina and Fursenkoina, the dorvilleid polychaete Ophryotrocha).