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Maloney, JM, Grupe BM, Pasulka AL, Dawson KS, Case DH, Frieder CA, Levin LA, Driscoll NW.  2015.  Transpressional segment boundaries in strike-slip fault systems offshore southern California: Implications for fluid expulsion and cold seep habitats. Geophysical Research Letters. 42:4080-4088.   10.1002/2015gl063778   AbstractWebsite

The importance of tectonics and fluid flow in controlling cold seep habitats has long been appreciated at convergent margins but remains poorly understood in strike-slip systems. Here we present geophysical, geochemical, and biological data from an active methane seep offshore from Del Mar, California, in the inner California borderlands (ICB). The location of this seep appears controlled by localized transpression associated with a step in the San Diego Trough fault zone and provides an opportunity to examine the interplay between fluid expulsion and restraining step overs along strike-slip fault systems. These segment boundaries may have important controls on seep locations in the ICB and other margins characterized by strike-slip faulting (e.g., Greece, Sea of Marmara, and Caribbean). The strike-slip fault systems offshore southern California appear to have a limited distribution of seep sites compared to a wider distribution at convergent plate boundaries, which may influence seep habitat diversity and connectivity.

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, 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.

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.

Thurber, AR, Kroger K, Neira C, Wiklund H, Levin LA.  2010.  Stable isotope signatures and methane use by New Zealand cold seep benthos. Marine Geology. 272:260-269.   10.1016/j.margeo.2009.06.001   AbstractWebsite

The carbon isotopic composition of seep faunal tissue represents a time-integrated view of the interaction between biology and the biogeochemical gradients within the environment. Here we provide an initial description of carbon and nitrogen stable isotope signatures of dominant symbiont-bearing megafauna and heterotrophic mega- and macrofauna from 10 methane-seep sites on the continental margin of the North Island of New Zealand (662-1201 m water depth). Isotopic signatures suggest that sulfide oxidation supports symbiont-bearing taxa including solemyid and vesicomyid bivalves, and methanotrophic symbionts are present in the seep mussel Bathymodiolus sp Multiple species of Frenulata (Siboglinidae) are present and have a range of isotopic values that are indicative of both thiotroph- and methanotroph-based nutrition. Isotopic composition of the tubeworm Lamellibrachia sp. varied by 23 3 parts per thousand among individuals although there was no consistent difference among sites Variation in methane use by heterotrophic fauna appears to reflect the availability of hard vs. soft substrate, macrofauna on hard substrates had high delta(13)C signatures, reflecting consumption of photosynthetic-derived organic matter Two unique, biotic assemblages were discovered to be fueled largely by methane: a hard-substrate, multi-phyla sponge-associated community (inhabiting the sponge Pseudosuberites sp) and a soft-sediment assemblage dominated by ampharetid polychaetes Isotope signatures yield estimates of 38-100% and 6-100% methane-derived carbon in sponge associates and ampharetid-bed macrofauna. respectively. These estimates are comparable to those made for deeper methane seeps at the Florida Escarpment (3290 m) and Kodiak. Alaska seeps (4445 m) The overall high use of methane as a carbon source by both symbiont-bearing and heterotrophic fauna suggests that New Zealand methane seeps are an ideal model system to study the interaction among metazoans, bacteria, archaea, and their resulting effect on methane cycles. (C) 2009 Elsevier B V All rights reserved