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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.

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.

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.

Fornes, WL, Demaster DJ, Levin LA, Blair NE.  1999.  Bioturbation and particle transport in Carolina slope sediments: A radiochemical approach. Journal of Marine Research. 57:335-355.   10.1357/002224099321618245   AbstractWebsite

In situ tracer experiments investigated short-term sediment mixing processes at two Carolina continental margin sites (water depth = 850 m) characterized by different organic C fluxes, (234)Th mixing coefficients (D(b)) and benthic assemblages. Phytoplankton, slope sediment, and sand-sized glass beads tagged with (210)Pb, (113)Sn, and (228)Th, respectively, were placed via submersible at the sediment-water interface at both field sites (Site I off Cape Fear, and Site m off Cape Hatteras). Experimental plots were sampled at 0, 1.5 days, and 90 days after tracer emplacement to examine short-term, vertical transport. Both sites are initially dominated by nonlocal mixing. Transport to the bottom of the surface mixed layer at both sites occurs more rapidly than (234)Th-based D(b) values predict; after 1.5 days, tagged particles were observed 5 cm below the sediment-water interface at Site I and 12 cm below at Site III. Impulse tracer profiles after 90 days at Site m exhibit primarily diffusive distributions, most likely due to a large number of random, nonlocal mixing events. The D(b) values determined from 90-day particle tagging experiments are comparable to those obtained from naturally occurring (234)Th profiles (similar to 100-day time scales) from nearby locations. The agreement between impulse tracer mixing coefficients and steady-state natural tracer mixing coefficients suggests that the diffusive analogue for bioturbation on monthly time scales is a realistic and useful approach. Tracer profiles from both sites exhibit some degree of particle selective mixing, but the preferential transport of the more labile carbon containing particles only occurred 30% of the time. Consequently, variations in the extent to which age-dependent mixing occurs in marine sediments may depend on factors such as faunal assemblage and organic carbon flux.

Levin, LA, Blair NE, Martin CM, Demaster DJ, Plaia G, Thomas CJ.  1999.  Macrofaunal processing of phytodetritus at two sites on the Carolina margin: in situ experiments using (13)C-labeled diatoms. Marine Ecology-Progress Series. 182:37-54.   10.3354/meps182037   AbstractWebsite

Tracer experiments using (13)C-labeled diatoms Thalassiosira pseudonana were carried out at two 850 m sites (I off Cape Fear and III off Cape Hatteras) on the North Carolina, USA, slope to examine patterns of macrofaunal consumption of fresh phytodetritus. Experiments examined the influence of taxon, feeding mode, body size and vertical position within the sediment column on access to surficial organic matter. delta(13)C measurements were made on macrofaunal metazoans and agglutinating protozoans from background sediments and from sediment plots in which (13)C-labeled diatoms were deposited and then sampled 0.3 h, 1 to 1.5 d, 3 mo and 14 mo later. Significant between-site differences were observed in background delta(13)C signatures of sediments, metazoans, and large, agglutinating protozoans, with values 2 to 3 parts per thousand lower at Site III than at Site I. Background delta(13)C signatures also varied as a function of taxon and of vertical position in the sediment column at Site III. The background delta(13)C value of carnivores was higher than that of surface-deposit feeders among Site I annelids, but no annelid feeding-group differences were observed at Site III. delta(13)C data from short-term (1 to 1.5 d) experiments revealed rapid diatom ingestion, primarily by agglutinated protozoans and annelids at Site I and mainly by annelids at Site III. Selective feeding on diatoms was exhibited by paraonid polychaetes, especially Aricidea spp. Exceptionally high uptake and retention of diatom C also was observed in the maldanid Praxillella sp., the nereid Ceratocephale sp. and several other surface-deposit feeding polychaetes. After 14 mo, little of the diatom (13)C remained at Site III, but high concentrations of the tracer were present in annelids and agglutinating protozoans at Site I. At both sites, nonannelid metazoans and subsurface-deposit feeding annelids exhibited the least uptake and retention of diatom C. Our hypotheses that large-bodied taxa and shallow-dwelling infauna should have greatest access to freshly deposited organic matter were not borne out. Some small, deep-dwelling taxa acquired label more readily than large or near-surface forms. Differences in tracer fates between sites reflected greater vertical mixing at Site III. These results indicate heterogeneity in benthic processes along the Carolina margin. but suggest that labile organic matter is consumed quickly at both sites. Because most of the taxa found to consume freshly deposited diatoms in these experiments are typical of bathyal settings, we infer that phytodetritus reaching the seabed in margin environments is rapidly processed by protozoan and metazoan components of the benthic fauna.

Blair, NE, Levin LA, Demaster DJ, Plaia G.  1996.  The short-term fate of fresh algal carbon in continental slope sediments. Limnology and Oceanography. 41:1208-1219. AbstractWebsite

Emplacement of a tracer mixture containing C-13-labeled green algae on the sea floor of the continental slope offshore of Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, elicited a rapid response over 1.5 d from the dense benthic community. Certain deposit-feeding annelids (e.g. Scalibregma inflatum and Aricidea quadrilobata) became heavily labeled with C-13 as a result Of ingestion of the algae. C-13-labeled organic matter was transported to a depth of at least 4-5 cm into the seabed during the 1.5-d period, presumably as a consequence of a feeding-associated activity. Nonlocal transport produced subsurface peaks in organic C-13 at 2-3 cm. Dissolved inorganic C-13, produced by the oxidation of the labeled algae, penetrated to 10-cm depth. The transport of highly reactive organic matter from the sediment surface at initial velocities greater than or equal to 3 cm d(-1) is expected to be an important control of subsurface benthic processes in slope environments characterized by abundant macrofaunal populations. Anaerobic processes, which are enhanced on the Cape Hatteras slope relative to adjacent areas, may be promoted by the rapid injection of reactive material into subsurface sediments. The transport, in turn, is a consequence of the dense infaunal populations that are supported by the rapid deposition of organic carbon in this region.