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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.

Grupe, BM, Krach ML, Pasulka AL, Maloney JM, Levin LA, Frieder CA.  2015.  Methane seep ecosystem functions and services from a recently discovered southern California seep. Marine Ecology-an Evolutionary Perspective. 36:91-108.   10.1111/maec.12243   AbstractWebsite

The recent discovery of a methane seep with diverse microhabitats and abundant groundfish in the San Diego Trough (1020 m) off the coast of Del Mar, California raised questions about the role of seep ecosystem functions and services in relation to continental margins. We used multicorer and ROV grab samples and an ROV survey to characterize macrofaunal structure, diversity, and trophic patterns in soft sediments and authigenic carbonates; seep microhabitats and taxa observed; and the abundance and spatial patterns of fishery-relevant species. Biogenic microhabitats near the Del Mar Seep included microbially precipitated carbonate boulders, bacterial mats, vesicomyid clam beds, frenulate and ampharetid beds, vestimentiferan tubeworm clumps, and fields of Bathysiphon filiformis tubes. Macrofaunal abundance increased and mean faunal delta C-13 signatures decreased in multicorer samples nearer the seep, suggesting that chemosynthetic production enhanced animal densities outside the seep center. Polychaetes dominated sediments, and ampharetids became especially abundant near microbial mats, while gastropods, hydroids, and sponges dominated carbonate rocks. A wide range of stable isotopic signatures reflected the diversity of microhabitats, and methane-derived carbon was the most prevalent source of nutrition for several taxa, especially those associated with carbonates. Megafaunal species living near the seep included longspine thornyhead (Sebastolobus altivelis), Pacific dover sole (Microstomus pacificus), and lithodid crabs (Paralomis verrilli), which represent targets for demersal fisheries. Sebastolobus altivelis was especially abundant (6.5-8.2 fish.100 m(-2)) and appeared to aggregate near the most active seep microhabitats. The Del Mar Methane Seep, like many others along the world's continental margins, exhibits diverse ecosystem functions and enhances regional diversity. Seeps such as this one may also contribute ecosystem services if they provide habitat for fishery species, export production to support margin food webs, and serve as sinks for methane-derived carbon.

Levin, LA, Orphan VJ, Rouse GW, Rathburn AE, Ussler W, Cook GS, Goffredi SK, Perez EM, Waren A, Grupe BM, Chadwick G, Strickrott B.  2012.  A hydrothermal seep on the Costa Rica margin: middle ground in a continuum of reducing ecosystems. Proceedings of the Royal Society B-Biological Sciences. 279:2580-2588.   10.1098/rspb.2012.0205   AbstractWebsite

Upon their initial discovery, hydrothermal vents and methane seeps were considered to be related but distinct ecosystems, with different distributions, geomorphology, temperatures, geochemical properties and mostly different species. However, subsequently discovered vents and seep systems have blurred this distinction. Here, we report on a composite, hydrothermal seep ecosystem at a subducting seamount on the convergent Costa Rica margin that represents an intermediate between vent and seep ecosystems. Diffuse flow of shimmering, warm fluids with high methane concentrations supports a mixture of microbes, animal species, assemblages and trophic pathways with vent and seep affinities. Their coexistence reinforces the continuity of reducing environments and exemplifies a setting conducive to interactive evolution of vent and seep biota.