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Cowie, GL, Levin LA.  2009.  Benthic biological and biogeochemical patterns and processes across an oxygen minimum zone (Pakistan margin, NE Arabian Sea). Deep-Sea Research Part Ii-Topical Studies in Oceanography. 56:261-270.   10.1016/j.dsr2.2008.10.001   AbstractWebsite

Oxygen minimum zones (OMZs) impinging on continental margins present sharp gradients ideal for testing environmental factors thought to influence C cycling and other benthic processes, and for identifying the roles that biota play in these processes. Here we introduce the objectives and initial results of a multinational research program designed to address the influences of water depth, the OMZ (similar to 150-1300 m), and organic matter (OM) availability on benthic communities and processes across the Pakistan Margin of the Arabian Sea. Hydrologic, sediment, and faunal characterizations were combined with in-situ and shipboard experiments to quantify and compare biogeochemical processes and fluxes, OM burial efficiency, and the contributions of benthic communities, across the OMZ. In this introductory paper, we briefly review previous related work in the Arabian Sea, building the rationale for integrative biogeochemical and ecological process studies. This is followed by a summary of individual volume contributions and a brief synthesis of results. Five primary stations were studied, at 140, 300, 940,1200 and 1850 m water depth, with sampling in March-May (intermonsoon) and August-October (late-to-postmonsoon) 2003. Taken together, the contributed papers demonstrate distinct cross-margin gradients, not only in oxygenation and sediment OM content, but in benthic community structure and function, including microbial processes, the extent of bioturbation, and faunal roles in C cycling. Hydrographic studies demonstrated changes in the intensity and extent of the OMZ during the SW monsoon, with a shoaling of the upper OMZ boundary that engulfed the previously oxygenated 140-m site. Oxygen profiling and microbial process rate determinations demonstrated dramatic differences in oxygen penetration and consumption across the margin, and in the relative importance of anaerobic processes, but surprisingly little seasonal change. A broad maximum in sediment OM content occurred on the upper slope, roughly coincident with the OMZ; but the otherwise poor correlation with bottom-water oxygen concentrations indicated that other factors are important in determining sediment OM distributions. Downcore profiles generally showed little clear evidence of in-situ OM alteration, and there was little sign of OM enrichment resulting from the southwest monsoon in sediments collected in the late-to-postmonsoon sampling. This is interpreted to be due to rapid cycling of labile OM. Organic geochemical studies confirmed that sediment OM is overwhelmingly of marine origin across the margin, but also that it is heavily altered, with only small changes in degradation state across the OMZ. More negative stable C isotopic compositions in surficial sediments at hypoxic sites within the OMZ core are attributed to a chemosynthetic bacterial imprint. Dramatic changes in benthic community structure occurred across the lower OMZ transition, apparently related to OM availability and quality as well as to DO concentrations. High-resolution sampling, biomarkers and isotope tracer studies revealed that oxygen availability appears to exert threshold-type controls on benthic community structure and early faunal C processing. Biomarker studies also provided evidence of faunal influence on sediment OM composition. Together, the results offer strong evidence that benthic fauna at sites across the margin play important roles in the early cycling of sediment OM through differential feeding and bioturbation activities. (C) 2008 Published by Elsevier Ltd.

Levin, LA.  2003.  Oxygen minimum zone benthos: Adaptation and community response to hypoxia. Oceanography and Marine Biology, Vol 41. 41:1-45. AbstractWebsite

Mid-water oxygen minima (<0.5ml 1(-1) dissolved O-2) intercept the continental margins along much of the eastern Pacific Ocean, off west Africa and in the Arabian Sea and Bay of Bengal, creating extensive stretches of sea floor exposed to permanent, severe oxygen depletion. These seafloor oxygen minimum zones (OMZs) typically occur at bathyal depths between 200m and 1000m, and are major sites of carbon burial along the continental margins. Despite extreme oxygen depletion, protozoan and metazoan assemblages thrive in these environments. Metazoan adaptations include small, thin bodies, enhanced respiratory surface area, blood pigments such as haemoglobin, biogenic structure formation for stability in soupy sediments, an increased number of pyruvate oxidoreductases, and the presence of sulphide-oxidising symbionts. The organic-rich sediments of these regions often support mats of large sulphide-oxidising bacteria (Thioploca, Beggiatoa, Thiomargarita), and high-density, low-diversity metazoan assemblages. Densities of protistan and metazoan meiofauna are typically elevated in OMZs, probably due to high tolerance of hypoxia, an abundant food supply, and release from predation. Macrofauna and megafauna often exhibit dense aggregations at OMZ edges, but depressed densities and low diversity in the OMZ core, where oxygen concentration is lowest. Taxa most tolerant of severe oxygen depletion (<0.2mll(-1)) in seafloor OMZs include calcareous foraminiferans, nematodes, and annelids. Agglutinated protozoans, harpacticoid copepods, and calcified invertebrates are typically less tolerant. High dominance and relatively low species richness are exhibited by foraminiferans, metazoan meiofauna, and macrofauna within OMZs. At dissolved oxygen concentrations below 0.15 ml l(-1), bioturbation is reduced, the mixed layer is shallow, and chemosynthesis-based nutrition (via heterotrophy and symbiosis) becomes important. OMZs represent a major oceanographic boundary for many species. As they expand and contract over geological time, OMZs may influence genetic diversity and play a key role in the evolution of species at bathyal depths. These ecosystems may preview the types of adaptations, species, and processes that will prevail with increasing hypoxia over ecological and evolutionary time. However, many questions remain unanswered concerning controls on faunal standing stocks in OMZs, and the physiological, enzymatic, metabolic, reproductive and molecular adaptations that permit benthic animals to live in OMZs. As global warming and eutrophication reduce oxygenation of the world ocean, there is a pressing need to understand the functional consequences of oxygen depletion in marine ecosystems.