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2018
Mullineaux, LS, Metaxas A, Beaulieu SE, Bright M, Gollner S, Grupe BM, Herrera S, Kellner JB, Levin LA, Mitarai S, Neubert MG, Thurnherr AM, Tunnicliffe V, Watanabe HK, Won YJ.  2018.  Exploring the ecology of deep-sea hydrothermal vents in a metacommunity framework. Frontiers in Marine Science. 5   10.3389/fmars.2018.00049   AbstractWebsite

Species inhabiting deep-sea hydrothermal vents are strongly influenced by the geological setting, as it provides the chemical-rich fluids supporting the food web, creates the patchwork of seafloor habitat, and generates catastrophic disturbances that can eradicate entire communities. The patches of vent habitat host a network of communities (a metacommunity) connected by dispersal of planktonic larvae. The dynamics of the metacommunity are influenced not only by birth rates, death rates and interactions of populations at the local site, but also by regional influences on dispersal from different sites. The connections to other communities provide a mechanism for dynamics at a local site to affect features of the regional biota. In this paper, we explore the challenges and potential benefits of applying metacommunity theory to vent communities, with a particular focus on effects of disturbance. We synthesize field observations to inform models and identify data gaps that need to be addressed to answer key questions including: (1) what is the influence of the magnitude and rate of disturbance on ecological attributes, such as time to extinction or resilience in ametacommunity; (2) what interactions between local and regional processes control species diversity, and (3) which communities are "hot spots" of key ecological significance. We conclude by assessing our ability to evaluate resilience of vent metacommunities to human disturbance (e.g., deep-sea mining). Although the resilience of a few highly disturbed vent systems in the eastern Pacific has been quantified, these values cannot be generalized to remote locales in the western Pacific ormid Atlantic where disturbance rates are different and information on local controls is missing.

Neira, C, Ingels J, Mendoza G, Hernandez-Lopez E, Levin LA.  2018.  Distribution of meiofauna in bathyal sediments influenced by the oxygen minimum zone off Costa Rica. Frontiers in Marine Science. 5   10.3389/fmars.2018.00448   AbstractWebsite

Ocean deoxygenation has become a topic of increasing concern because of its potential impacts on marine ecosystems, including oxygen minimum zone (OMZ) expansion and subsequent benthic effects. We investigated the influence of oxygen concentration and organic matter (OM) availability on metazoan meiofauna within and below an OMZ in bathyal sediments off Costa Rica, testing the hypothesis that oxygen and OM levels are reflected in meiofaunal community structures and distribution. Mean total densities in our sampling cores (400-1800 m water depth) were highest with 3688 ind. 10 cm(-2) at the OMZ core at 400 m water depth, decreasing rapidly downslope. Nematodes were overall dominant, with a maximum of 99.9% in the OMZ core, followed by copepods (13%), nauplii (4.8%), and polychaetes (3%). Relative copepod and nauplii abundance increased consistently with depth and increasing bottom-water O-2. Meiofaunal composition was significantly different among sites, with lower taxonomic diversity at OMZ sites relative to deeper, oxygenated sites. Vertical distribution patterns within sediments showed that in strongly oxygen-depleted sites less meiofauna was concentrated in the surface sediment than at deeper slope sites. Highest meiofaunal abundance and lowest diversity occurred under lowest oxygen and highest pigment levels, whereas highest diversity occurred under highest oxygen-concentrations and low pigments, as well as high quality of sedimentary pigment (chl a/phaeo) and organic carbon (C/N). The lower meiofaunal diversity, and lower structural and trophic complexity, at oxygen-depleted sites raises concerns about changes in the structure and function of benthic marine ecosystems in the face of OMZ expansions.

Sato, KN, Andersson AJ, Day JMD, Taylor JRA, Frank MB, Jung JY, McKittrick J, Levin LA.  2018.  Response of sea urchin fitness traits to environmental gradients across the Southern California oxygen minimum zone. Frontiers in Marine Science. 5   10.3389/fmars.2018.00258   AbstractWebsite

Marine calcifiers are considered to be among the most vulnerable taxa to climate-forced environmental changes occurring on continental margins with effects hypothesized to occur on microstructural, biomechanical, and geochemical properties of carbonate structures. Natural gradients in temperature, salinity, oxygen, and pH on an upwelling margin combined with the broad depth distribution (100-1,100 m) of the pink fragile sea urchin, Strongylocentrotus (formerly Allocentrotus) fragilis, along the southern California shelf and slope provide an ideal system to evaluate potential effects of multiple climate variables on carbonate structures in situ. We measured, for the first time, trait variability across four distinct depth zones using natural gradients as analogues for species-specific implications of oxygen minimum zone (OMZ) expansion, deoxygenation and ocean acidification. Although S. fragilis may likely be tolerant of future oxygen and pH decreases predicted during the twenty-first century, we determine from adults collected across multiple depth zones that urchin size and potential reproductive fitness (gonad index) are drastically reduced in the OMZ core (450-900 m) compared to adjacent zones. Increases in porosity and mean pore size coupled with decreases in mechanical nanohardness and stiffness of the calcitic endoskeleton in individuals collected from lower pH(Total) (7.57-7.59) and lower dissolved oxygen (13-42 mu mol kg(-1)) environments suggest that S. fragilis may be potentially vulnerable to crushing predators if these conditions become more widespread in the future. In addition, elemental composition indicates that S. fragilis has a skeleton composed of the low Mg-calcite mineral phase of calcium carbonate (mean Mg/Ca = 0.02 mol mol(-1)), with Mg/Ca values measured in the lower end of values reported for sea urchins known to date. Together these findings suggest that ongoing declines in oxygen and pH will likely affect the ecology and fitness of a dominant echinoid on the California margin.

Niner, HJ, Ardron JA, Escobar EG, Gianni M, Jaeckel A, Jones DOB, Levin LA, Smith CR, Thiele T, Turner PJ, Vandover CL, Watling L, Gjerde KM.  2018.  Deep-sea mining with no net loss of biodiversity-an impossible aim. Frontiers in Marine Science. 5   10.3389/fmars.2018.00053   AbstractWebsite

Deep-sea mining is likely to result in biodiversity loss, and the significance of this to ecosystem function is not known. "Out of kind" biodiversity offsets substituting one ecosystem type (e.g., coral reefs) for another (e.g., abyssal nodule fields) have been proposed to compensate for such loss. Here we consider a goal of no net loss (NNL) of biodiversity and explore the challenges of applying this aim to deep seabed mining, based on the associated mitigation hierarchy (avoid, minimize, remediate). We conclude that the industry cannot at present deliver an outcome of NNL. This results from the vulnerable nature of deep-sea environments to mining impacts, currently limited technological capacity to minimize harm, significant gaps in ecological knowledge, and uncertainties of recovery potential of deep-sea ecosystems. Avoidance and minimization of impacts are therefore the only presently viable means of reducing biodiversity losses from seabed mining. Because of these constraints, when and if deep-sea mining proceeds, it must be approached in a precautionary and step-wise manner to integrate new and developing knowledge. Each step should be subject to explicit environmental management goals, monitoring protocols, and binding standards to avoid serious environmental harm and minimize loss of biodiversity. "Out of kind" measures, an option for compensation currently proposed, cannot replicate biodiversity and ecosystem services lost through mining of the deep seabed and thus cannot be considered true offsets. The ecosystem functions provided by deep-sea biodiversity contribute to a wide range of provisioning services (e.g., the exploitation of fish, energy, pharmaceuticals, and cosmetics), play an essential role in regulatory services (e.g., carbon sequestration) and are important culturally. The level of "acceptable" biodiversity loss in the deep sea requires public, transparent, and well-informed consideration, as well as wide agreement. If accepted, further agreement on how to assess residual losses remaining after the robust implementation of the mitigation hierarchy is also imperative. To ameliorate some of the inter-generational inequity caused by mining-associated biodiversity losses, and only after all NNL measures have been used to the fullest extent, potential compensatory actions would need to be focused on measures to improve the knowledge and protection of the deep sea and to demonstrate benefits that will endure for future generations.

Neira, C, Vales M, Mendoza G, Hoh E, Levin LA.  2018.  Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) in recreational marina sediments of San Diego Bay, southern California. Marine Pollution Bulletin. 126:204-214.   10.1016/j.marpolbul.2017.10.096   AbstractWebsite

Polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB) concentrations were determined in surface sediments from three recreational marinas in San Diego Bay, California. Total PCB concentrations ranged from 23 to 153, 31-294, and 151-1387 ng g(-1) for Shelter Island Yacht Basin (SIYB), Harbor Island West (HW) and Harbor Island East (HE), respectively. PCB concentrations were significantly higher in HE and PCB group composition differed relative to HW and SIYB, which were not significantly different from each other in concentration or group composition. In marina sediments there was a predominance (82-85%) of heavier molecular weight PCBs with homologous groups (6CL-7CL) comprising 59% of the total. In HE 75% of the sites exceeded the effect range median (ERM), and toxicity equivalence (TEQ dioxin-like PCBs) values were higher relative to those of HW and SIYB, suggesting a potential ecotoxicological risk.

2017
Sweetman, AK, Thurber AR, Smith CR, Levin LA, Mora C, Wei CL, Gooday AJ, Jones DOB, Rex M, Yasuhara M, Ingels J, Ruhl HA, Frieder CA, Danovaro R, Wurzberg L, Baco A, Grupe BM, Pasulka A, Meyer KS, Dunlop KM, Henry LA, Roberts JM.  2017.  Major impacts of climate change on deep-sea benthic ecosystems. Elementa-Science of the Anthropocene. 5:1-23.   10.1525/elementa.203   AbstractWebsite

The deep sea encompasses the largest ecosystems on Earth. Although poorly known, deep seafloor ecosystems provide services that are vitally important to the entire ocean and biosphere. Rising atmospheric greenhouse gases are bringing about significant changes in the environmental properties of the ocean realm in terms of water column oxygenation, temperature, pH and food supply, with concomitant impacts on deep-sea ecosystems. Projections suggest that abyssal (3000-6000 m) ocean temperatures could increase by 1 degrees C over the next 84 years, while abyssal seafloor habitats under areas of deep-water formation may experience reductions in water column oxygen concentrations by as much as 0.03 mL L-1 by 2100. Bathyal depths (200-3000 m) worldwide will undergo the most significant reductions in pH in all oceans by the year 2100 (0.29 to 0.37 pH units). O-2 concentrations will also decline in the bathyal NE Pacific and Southern Oceans, with losses up to 3.7% or more, especially at intermediate depths. Another important environmental parameter, the flux of particulate organic matter to the seafloor, is likely to decline significantly in most oceans, most notably in the abyssal and bathyal Indian Ocean where it is predicted to decrease by 40-55% by the end of the century. Unfortunately, how these major changes will affect deep-seafloor ecosystems is, in some cases, very poorly understood. In this paper, we provide a detailed overview of the impacts of these changing environmental parameters on deep-seafloor ecosystems that will most likely be seen by 2100 in continental margin, abyssal and polar settings. We also consider how these changes may combine with other anthropogenic stressors (e.g., fishing, mineral mining, oil and gas extraction) to further impact deep-seafloor ecosystems and discuss the possible societal implications.