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Levin, L, Gutierrez D, Rathburn A, Neira C, Sellanes J, Munoz P, Gallardo V, Salamanca M.  2002.  Benthic processes on the Peru margin: a transect across the oxygen minimum zone during the 1997-98 El Nino. Progress in Oceanography. 53:1-27.   10.1016/s0079-6611(02)00022-8   AbstractWebsite

Oxygen minimum zones (OMZs) are widespread features in the most productive regions of the world ocean. A holistic view of benthic responses to OMZ conditions will improve our ability to predict ecosystem-level consequences of climatic trends that influence oxygen availability, such as global warming or ENSO-related events. Four stations off Callao, Peru (-12'S, Station A, 305 m; Station B, 562 m; Station C, 830 nu and Station D, 1210 m) were sampled to examine the influence of the low bottom-water oxygen concentration and high organic-matter availability within the OMZ (O(2) < 0.5 ml L(-1)) on sediments, benthic communities, and bioturbation. Sampling took place during early January 1998, an intense El Ni (n) over tildeo period associated with higher-than-normal levels of O(2) on the shelf and upper slope. Peru slope sediments were highly heterogeneous. Sediment total organic carbon content exceeded 16%, lamination was present below 6 cm depth, and filamentous sulfur bacteria (Thioploca spp.) were present at Station A, (305 m, 0, < 0.02 ml L(-1)). Deeper sites contained phosphorite crusts or pellets and exhibited greater bottom-water oxygenation and lower content and quality of organic matter. X-radiographs and (210)Pb and (234)Th profiles suggested the dominance of lateral transport and bioturbation over pelagic sedimentation at the mid- and lower slope sites. Macrofauna, metazoan meiofauna and foraminifera exhibited coherence of density patterns across stations, with maximal densities (and for macrofauna, reduced diversity) at Station A, where bottom-water oxygen concentration was lowest and sediment labile organic matter content (LOC: sum of protein, carbohydrate and lipid carbon) was greatest. Metazoan and protozoan meiofaunal densities were positively correlated with sediment LOC. The taxa most tolerant of nearly anoxic, organic-rich conditions within the Peru OMZ were calcareous foraminifera, nematodes and gutless phallodrilinid (symbiont-bearing) oligochaetes. Agglutinated foraminifera, harpacticoid copepods, polychaetes and many other macrofaunal taxa increased in relative abundance below the OMZ. During the study (midpoint of the 1997-98 El Ni (n) over tildeo), the upper OMZ boundary exhibited a significant deepening (to 190 m) relative to 'normal', non-El Ni (n) over tildeo conditions (< 100 m), possibly causing a mild, transient oxygenation over the upper slope (200-300 m) and reduction of the organic particle flux to the seabed. Future sampling may determine whether the Peru margin system exhibits dynamic responses to changing ENSO-related conditions. (C) 2002 Elsevier Science Ltd. All rights reserved.

Buhl-Mortensen, L, Vanreusel A, Gooday AJ, Levin LA, Priede IG, Buhl-Mortensen P, Gheerardyn H, King NJ, Raes M.  2010.  Biological structures as a source of habitat heterogeneity and biodiversity on the deep ocean margins. Marine Ecology-an Evolutionary Perspective. 31:21-50.   10.1111/j.1439-0485.2010.00359.x   AbstractWebsite

Biological structures exert a major influence on species diversity at both local and regional scales on deep continental margins. Some organisms use other species as substrates for attachment, shelter, feeding or parasitism, but there may also be Mutual benefits from the association. Here, we highlight the structural attributes and biotic effects of the habitats that corals, sea pens, sponges and xenophyophores offer other organisms. The environmental setting of the biological structures influences their species composition. The importance of benthic species as substrates seems to increase with depth as the complexity of the surrounding geological substrate and food supply decline. There are marked differences in the degree of mutualistic relationships between habitat-forming taxa. This is especially evident for scleractinian corals, which have high numbers of facultative associates (commensals) and few obligate associates (mutualists), and gorgonians, with their few commensals and many obligate associates. Size, flexibility and architectural complexity of the habitat-forming organism are positively related to species diversity for both sessile and mobile species. This is mainly evident for commensal species sharing a facultative relationship with their host. Habitat complexity is enhanced by the architecture of biological structures, as well as by biological interactions. Colony morphology has a great influence on feeding efficiency for suspension feeders. Suspension feeding, habitat-forming organisms modify the environment to optimize their food uptake. This environmental advantage is also passed on to associated filter-feeding species. These effects are poorly understood but represent key points for understanding ecosystems and biodiversity on continental margins. In this paper we explore the contributions of organisms and the biotic structures they create (rather than physical modifications) to habitat heterogeneity and diversity on the deep continental margins.

Guilini, K, Levin LA, Vanreusel A.  2012.  Cold seep and oxygen minimum zone associated sources of margin heterogeneity affect benthic assemblages, diversity and nutrition at the Cascadian margin (NE Pacific Ocean). Progress in Oceanography. 96:77-92.   10.1016/j.pocean.2011.10.003   AbstractWebsite

Hydrate Ridge (HR), located on the northeastern Pacific margin off Oregon, is characterized by the presence of outcropping hydrates and active methane seepage. Additionally, permanent low oxygen conditions overlay the benthic realm. This study evaluated the relative influence of both seepage and oxygen minima as sources of habitat heterogeneity and potential stress-inducing features on the bathyal metazoan benthos (primarily nematodes) at three different seep and non-seep HR locations, exposed to decreasing bottom-water oxygen concentrations with increasing water depth. The nematode seep communities at HR exhibited low diversity with dominance of only one or two genera (Daptonema and Metadesmolaimus), elevated average individual biomass and delta C-13 evidence for strong dependance on chemosynthesis-derived carbon, resembling deep-sea seeps worldwide. Although the HR seep habitats harbored a distinct nematode community like in other known seep communities, they differed from deep-sea seeps in well-oxygenated waters based on that they shared the dominant genera with the surrounding non-seep sediments overlain by oxygen-deficient bottom water. The homogenizing effect of the oxygen minimum zone on the seep nematode assemblages and surrounding sediments was constant with increasing water depth and concomitant greater oxygen-deficiency, resulting in a loss of habitat heterogeneity. (C) 2011 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

Moseman, SM, Levin LA, Currin C, Forder C.  2004.  Colonization, succession, and nutrition of macrobenthic assemblages in a restored wetland at Tijuana Estuary, California. Estuarine Coastal and Shelf Science. 60:755-770.   10.1016/j.ecss.2004.03.013   AbstractWebsite

Modes of colonization, the successional trajectory, and trophic recovery of a macrofaunal community were analyzed over 19 months in the Friendship marsh, a 20-acre restored wetland in Tijuana Estuary, California. Traditional techniques for quantifying macrofaunal communities were combined with emerging stable isotopic approaches for evaluation of trophic recovery, making comparisons with a nearby natural Spartina foliosa habitat. Life history-based predictions successfully identified major colonization modes, although most taxa employed a variety of tactics for colonizing the restored marsh. The presence of S.foliosa did not seem to affect macrofaunal colonization or succession at the scale of this study. However, soil organic matter content in the restored marsh was positively correlated with insect densities, and high initial salinities may have limited the success of early colonists. Total macrofaunal densities recovered to natural marsh levels after 14 months and diversity, measured as species richness and the Shannon index (H'), was comparable to the natural marsh by 19 months. Some compositional disparities between the natural and created communities persisted after 19 months, including lower percentages of surface-feeding polychaetes (Polydora spp.) and higher percentages of dipteran insects and turbellarians in the Friendship marsh. As surficial structural similarity of infaunal communities between the Friendship and natural habitat was achieved, isotopic analyses revealed a simultaneous trajectory towards recovery of trophic structure. Enriched delta(13)C signatures of benthic microalgae and infauna, observed in the restored marsh shortly after establishment compared to natural Spartina habitat, recovered after 19 months. However, the depletion in delta(15)N signatures of macrofauna in the Friendship marsh indicated consumption of microalgae, particularly nitrogen-fixing cyanobacteria, while macroalgae and Spartina made a larger contribution to macrofaunal diets in the natural habitat. Future successional studies must continue to develop and employ novel combinations of techniques for evaluating structural and functional recovery of disturbed and created habitats. (C) 2004 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

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, Leithold EL, Gross TF, Huggett CL, Dibacco C.  1994.  Contrasting effects of substrate mobility on infaunal assemblages inhabiting two high-energy settings on Fieberling Guyot. Journal of Marine Research. 52:489-522.   10.1357/0022240943077028   AbstractWebsite

The influence of seamount-intensified flows on the structure of infaunal assemblages was examined at two sand-covered sites located 2.3 km apart atop the summit plain of Fieberling Guyot (32-degrees 27.6'N 127-degrees 48.0'W). Both sites experience strong, tidal bottom currents with flows exceeding 20 cm/ s on a daily basis (4 mab). Estimates of shear velocity (u*) did not differ significantly between the two sites. However, differences in sediment composition and density produced different sediment transport regimes at the two sites. At Sea Pen Rim (SPR), located on the NW perimeter (635 m), sedimentary particles were composed primarily of basaltic sands that experienced negligible transport during the study period. At White Sand Swale (WSS, 580 m), a narrow valley enclosed on three sides by basalt outcrops, sediments were composed almost entirely of foraminiferal sands that moved daily. Sediment organic content and microbial abundances were similar at the two sites. Infauna (> 300 mum) had higher densities at WSS (1870/m2) than SPR (1489/m2), but lower expected species richness. Although the 2 sites shared nearly 50% of identified species, peracarid crustaceans, echinoderms, sponges, and bryozoans were proportionally more important in the stable substrates of SPR, while turbellarians, bivalves, and aplacophorans were better represented in the shifting sands of WSS. The infauna of WSS lived deeper in the sediment column (> 50% below 2 cm) than that of SPR (> 50% in the upper 1 cm), at least partly because the majority (83%) at WSS were subsurface burrowers with motile lifestyles. Tube-building and epifaunal lifestyles were more common at SPR than WSS, as were surface-deposit and filter-feeding modes. Fences and weirs were deployed at the study sites for 6.5-wk and 6-mo periods to manipulate bottom stress. Changes in faunal patterns within weirs at WSS reinforced our conjecture that contrasting sediment transport regimes explain between-site differences in community structure. Fence effects varied with deployment period and site. Topographic features on Fieberling Guyot produce heterogeneous sedimentary settings characterized by different transport regimes. Our results suggest that substrate mobility exerts primary control over infaunal community structure at the two high-energy sites.

Ramirez-Llodra, E, Brandt A, Danovaro R, De Mol B, Escobar E, German CR, Levin LA, Arbizu PM, Menot L, Buhl-Mortensen P, Narayanaswamy BE, Smith CR, Tittensor DP, Tyler PA, Vanreusel A, Vecchione M.  2010.  Deep, diverse and definitely different: unique attributes of the world's largest ecosystem. Biogeosciences. 7:2851-2899.   10.5194/bg-7-2851-2010   AbstractWebsite

The deep sea, the largest biome on Earth, has a series of characteristics that make this environment both distinct from other marine and land ecosystems and unique for the entire planet. This review describes these patterns and processes, from geological settings to biological processes, biodiversity and biogeographical patterns. It concludes with a brief discussion of current threats from anthropogenic activities to deep-sea habitats and their fauna. Investigations of deep-sea habitats and their fauna began in the late 19th century. In the intervening years, technological developments and stimulating discoveries have promoted deep-sea research and changed our way of understanding life on the planet. Nevertheless, the deep sea is still mostly unknown and current discovery rates of both habitats and species remain high. The geological, physical and geochemical settings of the deep-sea floor and the water column form a series of different habitats with unique characteristics that support specific faunal communities. Since 1840, 28 new habitats/ecosystems have been discovered from the shelf break to the deep trenches and discoveries of new habitats are still happening in the early 21st century. However, for most of these habitats the global area covered is unknown or has been only very roughly estimated; an even smaller - indeed, minimal - proportion has actually been sampled and investigated. We currently perceive most of the deep-sea ecosystems as heterotrophic, depending ultimately on the flux on organic matter produced in the overlying surface ocean through photosynthesis. The resulting strong food limitation thus shapes deep-sea biota and communities, with exceptions only in reducing ecosystems such as inter alia hydrothermal vents or cold seeps. Here, chemoautolithotrophic bacteria play the role of primary producers fuelled by chemical energy sources rather than sunlight. Other ecosystems, such as seamounts, canyons or cold-water corals have an increased productivity through specific physical processes, such as topographic modification of currents and enhanced transport of particles and detrital matter. Because of its unique abiotic attributes, the deep sea hosts a specialized fauna. Although there are no phyla unique to deep waters, at lower taxonomic levels the composition of the fauna is distinct from that found in the upper ocean. Amongst other characteristic patterns, deep-sea species may exhibit either gigantism or dwarfism, related to the decrease in food availability with depth. Food limitation on the seafloor and water column is also reflected in the trophic structure of heterotrophic deep-sea communities, which are adapted to low energy availability. In most of these heterotrophic habitats, the dominant megafauna is composed of detritivores, while filter feeders are abundant in habitats with hard substrata (e. g. mid-ocean ridges, seamounts, canyon walls and coral reefs). Chemoautotrophy through symbiotic relationships is dominant in reducing habitats. Deep-sea biodiversity is among of the highest on the planet, mainly composed of macro and meiofauna, with high evenness. This is true for most of the continental margins and abyssal plains with hot spots of diversity such as seamounts or cold-water corals. However, in some ecosystems with particularly "extreme" physicochemical processes (e.g. hydrothermal vents), biodiversity is low but abundance and biomass are high and the communities are dominated by a few species. Two large-scale diversity patterns have been discussed for deep-sea benthic communities. First, a unimodal relationship between diversity and depth is observed, with a peak at intermediate depths (2000-3000 m), although this is not universal and particular abiotic processes can modify the trend. Secondly, a poleward trend of decreasing diversity has been discussed, but this remains controversial and studies with larger and more robust data sets are needed. Because of the paucity in our knowledge of habitat coverage and species composition, biogeographic studies are mostly based on regional data or on specific taxonomic groups. Recently, global biogeographic provinces for the pelagic and benthic deep ocean have been described, using environmental and, where data were available, taxonomic information. This classification described 30 pelagic provinces and 38 benthic provinces divided into 4 depth ranges, as well as 10 hydrothermal vent provinces. One of the major issues faced by deep-sea biodiversity and biogeographical studies is related to the high number of species new to science that are collected regularly, together with the slow description rates for these new species. Taxonomic coordination at the global scale is particularly difficult, but is essential if we are to analyse large diversity and biogeographic trends. Because of their remoteness, anthropogenic impacts on deep-sea ecosystems have not been addressed very thoroughly until recently. The depletion of biological and mineral resources on land and in shallow waters, coupled with technological developments, are promoting the increased interest in services provided by deep-water resources. Although often largely unknown, evidence for the effects of human activities in deep-water ecosystems - such as deep-sea mining, hydrocarbon exploration and exploitation, fishing, dumping and littering - is already accumulating. Because of our limited knowledge of deep-sea biodiversity and ecosystem functioning and because of the specific life-history adaptations of many deep-sea species (e. g. slow growth and delayed maturity), it is essential that the scientific community works closely with industry, conservation organisations and policy makers to develop robust and efficient conservation and management options.

Gooday, AJ, Levin LA, Thomas CL, Hecker B.  1992.  The distribution and ecology of Bathysiphon filiformis sars and B. major de folin (Protista, Foraminiferida) on the continental slope off North Carolina. Journal of Foraminiferal Research. 22:129-146. AbstractWebsite

Two large species of the agglutinated foraminifera genus Bathysiphon are common in samples and photographs from bathyal depths on the North Carolina continental slope: B. filiformis off Cape Hatteras (588-930 m bathymetric depth) and B. major off Cape Lookout (850-1950 m depth). The sampling area, and particularly the 850 m station where B. filiformis is abundant (mean densities of 59-154 per m2), is believed to receive large inputs of organic material from various sources. This is consistent with the previously observed occurrence of large Bathysiphon species in regions of high food supply. Ten camera sled transects across the eastern U.S. continental slope between 32-degrees-N and 41-degrees-N emphasize the abundance of B. filiformis in the Cape Hatteras area compared with its rarity or absence elsewhere along the continental slope. Box cores, bottom photographs, and direct submersible observations indicate that B. filiformis tubes project above the sediment in an arcuate curve with only the lower 1 cm or so buried. Bathysiphon major adopts a similar orientation but has a greater proportion (50-80%) of the tube buried. The voluminous, dense, granular protoplasm of both species contains biogenic particles (including diatoms, in B. filiformis only), dinoflagellate cysts, fungal remains, pollen grains, tintinnid loricae, polychaete jaws and setae, benthic foraminiferal tests, and fish tooth fragments), suggesting that they feed mainly on material derived from the sediment surface. Submersible observations indicate that B. filiformis is patchily distributed at 100 m scales. Smaller scale dispersion patterns (analyzed from photographs) are generally random but with a tendency to be aggregated at lower densities and uniform at higher densities. A variety of metazoans and foraminifers live epifaunally on the outer surfaces of B. filiformis tubes. The most frequently occurring metazoans were larvae and juveniles of an unidentified gastropod and a tubiculous terebellid polychaete Nicolea sp. The most common epifaunal foraminifers were Tritaxis conica and Trochammina sp. Tubes of B. major, however, are virtually devoid of epifauna. Our results support the view that large, agglutinated rhizopod tests may influence the structure of deep-water benthic communities. However, in the case of Bathysiphon on the North Carolina continental slope, the effect appears limited to taxa directly associated with the foraminiferal tubes.

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, Dayton PK.  2009.  Ecological theory and continental margins: where shallow meets deep. Trends in Ecology & Evolution. 24:606-617.   10.1016/j.tree.2009.04.012   AbstractWebsite

Continental margins, where land becomes ocean and plunges to the deep sea, provide valuable food and energy resources, and perform essential functions such as carbon burial and nutrient cycling. They exhibit remarkably high species and habitat diversity, but this is threatened by our increasing reliance on the resources that margins provide, and by warming, expanding hypoxia and acidification associated with climate change. Continental margin ecosystems, with environments, constituents and processes that differ from those in shallow water, demand a new focus, in which ecological theory and experimental methods are brought to bear on management and conservation practices. Concepts of disturbance, diversity-function relationships, top-down versus bottom-up control, facilitation and meta-dynamics offer a framework for studying fundamental processes and understanding future change.

Levin, LA, Edesa S.  1997.  The ecology of cirratulid mudballs on the Oman margin, northwest Arabian Sea. Marine Biology. 128:671-678.   10.1007/s002270050134   AbstractWebsite

Mudball-building cirratulid polychaetes have been described previously only from the southern California margin. During a study of oxygen minimum-zone benthos in fall 1994, we observed dense aggregations of agglutinated mudballs at 840 to 875 m on the Oman margin in the northwest Arabian Sea. These were inhabited, and probably constructed, by a cirratulid polychaete species in the genus Monticellina. The mudballs were cigar-shaped, 4.5 to 25 mm long, and positioned vertically so as to protrude several millimeters above the sediment-water interface. Total mudball densities were similar to 16000 m(-2). Occupied mudballs occurred at densities of 2112 m(-2); 89% were in the uppermost 2 cm of sediment, and no occupied mudballs were found below 10 cm. Organisms other than the cirratulid were present on 1.7% of the mudballs examined, and included epizoic polychaetes, agglutinated and calcareous Foraminifera. Various polychaetes, a nemertean and nematodes were found inside tests. Mudball abundance exhibited positive associations with densities of several paraonid polychaete species, and with densities of burrowing and subsurface-deposit-feeding polychaetes. Negative associations were observed between mudballs and three tube-building taxa (two polychaetes and an amphipod). Mudball-inhabiting cirratulids are abundant in at least two low-oxygen, margin settings. We expect further sampling of bathyal environments to yield additional systems in which cirratulid mudballs are common. Such observations are valuable because mudballs appear to represent a significant source of heterogeneity that can influence macrofaunal community structure in deep-sea sediments.

Levin, LA, Etter RJ, Rex MA, Gooday AJ, Smith CR, Pineda J, Stuart CT, Hessler RR, Pawson D.  2001.  Environmental influences on regional deep-sea species diversity. Annual Review of Ecology and Systematics. 32:51-93.   10.1146/annurev.ecolsys.32.081501.114002   AbstractWebsite

Most of our knowledge of biodiversity and its causes in the deep-sea benthos derives from regional-scale sampling studies of the macrofauna. Improved sampling methods and the expansion of investigations into a wide variety of habitats have revolutionized our understanding of the deep sea. Local species diversity shows clear geographic variation on spatial scales of 100-1000 km. Recent sampling programs have revealed unexpected complexity in community structure at the landscape level that is associated with large-scale oceanographic processes and their environmental consequences. We review the relationships between variation in local species diversity and the regional-scale phenomena of boundary constraints, gradients of productivity, sediment heterogeneity, oxygen availability, hydrodynamic regimes, and catastrophic physical disturbance. We present a conceptual model of how these interdependent environmental factors shape regional-scale variation in local diversity. Local communities in the deep sea may be composed of species that exist as metapopulations whose regional distribution depends on a balance among global-scale, landscape-scale, and small-scale dynamics. Environmental gradients may form geographic patterns of diversity by influencing local processes such as predation, resource partitioning, competitive exclusion, and facilitation that determine species coexistence. The measurement of deep-sea species diversity remains a vital issue in comparing geographic patterns and evaluating their potential causes. Recent assessments of diversity using species accumulation curves with randomly pooled samples confirm the often-disputed claim that the deep sea supports higher diversity than the continental shelf. However, more intensive quantitative sampling is required to fully characterize the diversity of deep-sea sediments, the most extensive habitat on Earth. Once considered to be constant, spatially uniform, and isolated, deep-sea sediments are now recognized as a dynamic, richly textured environment that is inextricably linked to the global biosphere. Regional studies of the last two decades provide the empirical background necessary to formulate and test specific hypotheses of causality by controlled sampling designs and experimental approaches.

Gooday, AJ, Hughes JA, Levin LA.  2001.  The foraminiferan macrofauna from three North Carolina (USA) slope sites with contrasting carbon flux: a comparison with the metazoan macrofauna. Deep-Sea Research Part I-Oceanographic Research Papers. 48:1709-1739.   10.1016/s0967-0637(00)00098-4   AbstractWebsite

Food supply exerts a strong influence on benthic faunal abundance and community structure. Here, we compare community-level responses of macrofaunal foraminiferans and metazoans ( > 300 mum fraction) in relation to a gradient of organic carbon flux [Site III > II > I] along the 850 m contour on the North Carolina slope. Foraminiferan density, species richness E(S(100)), and dominance were positively correlated with organic carbon flux;. Foraminiferans were more abundant at Site III, displayed lower diversity and higher dominance, and tended to live deeper in the sediment column than at either Sites I or II. The Site I fauna was dominated by agglutinated taxa (mainly simple monothalamous forms and hormosinaceans) and included large epifaunal species, some of which projected from the sediment surface and probably fed on fresh phytodetritus. Hormosinaceans and monothalamous taxa also were abundant at Site II, although large epifaunal taxa were not present. The Site III fauna was dominated by calcareous tare. The most abundant species was Globobulimina auriculata, an infaunal, low-oxygen tolerant, deposit feeder with a calcareous test sometimes obscured by an agglutinated cyst. Plate-like or flattened fragments of small xenophyophore species occurred at Site I, an unusually shallow record for this taxon and the first from the North Carolina margin. Most of these fragments were dead. Xenophyophores were not present at Sites II and III. The metazoan macrofauna exhibited trends in density, diversity, dominance and vertical distribution within the sediment that parallel those of the foraminiferans and were correlated with between-site differences in food availability. However, metazoans were 4.5-6.5 times less abundant than the foraminiferans, were more diverse, exhibited lower dominance and (at least at Sites I and III) tended to penetrate the sediment less deeply, These differences suggest that foraminiferans, considered as a group, are more opportunistic than metazoans, tolerate oxygen depletion better, and have population dynamics that are more closely coupled to organic matter inputs than those of metazoans. Foraminiferan diversity trends are even more similar to those of the polychaetes at these sites, suggesting that there are ecological parallels between the two taxa despite their fundamental phylogenetic and structural differences. Foraminiferans are a ubiquitous yet frequently overlooked component of the macrofauna on continental margins that experience a broad range of organic input regimes. They deserve to be considered more often in macrofaunal studies addressing interactions between organisms and their environments. (C) 2001 Elsevier Science Ltd. All rights reserved.

Levin, LA, Boesch DF, Covich A, Dahm C, Erseus C, Ewel KC, Kneib RT, Moldenke A, Palmer MA, Snelgrove P, Strayer D, Weslawski JM.  2001.  The function of marine critical transition zones and the importance of sediment biodiversity. Ecosystems. 4:430-451.   10.1007/s10021-001-0021-4   AbstractWebsite

Estuaries and coastal wetlands are critical transition zones (CTZs) that link land, freshwater habitats, and the sea. CTZs provide essential ecological functions, including decomposition, nutrient cycling, and nutrient production, as well as regulation of fluxes of nutrients, water, particles, and organisms to and from land, rivers, and the ocean. Sediment-associated biota are integral to these functions. Functional groups considered essential to CTZ processes include heterotrophic bacteria and fungi, as well as many benthic invertebrates. Key invertebrate functions include shredding, which breaks down and recycles organic matter; suspension feeding, which collects and transports sediments across the sediment-water interface; and bioturbating, which moves sediment into or out of the seabed. In addition, macrophytes regulate many aspects of nutrient, particle, and organism dynamics above- and belowground. Animals moving within or through CTZs are vectors that transport nutrients and organic matter across terrestrial, freshwater, and marine interfaces. Significant threats to biodiversity within CTZs are posed by anthropogenic influences; eutrophication, nonnutrient pollutants, species invasions, overfishing, habitat alteration, and climate change affect species richness or composition in many coastal environments. Because biotic diversity in marine CTZ sediments is inherently low whereas their functional significance is great, shifts in diversity are likely to be particularly important. Species introductions (from invasion) or loss (from overfishing or habitat alteration) provide evidence that single-species changes can have overt, sweeping effects on CTZ structure and function. Certain species may be critically important to the maintenance of ecosystem functions in CTZs even though at present there is limited empirical evidence that the number of species in CTZ sediments is critical. We hypothesized that diversity is indeed important to ecosystem function in marine CTZs because high diversity maintains positive interactions among species (facilitation and mutualism), promoting stability and resistance to invasion or other forms of disturbance. The complexity of interactions among species and feedbacks with ecosystem functions suggests that comparative (mensurative) and manipulative approaches will be required to elucidate the role of diversity in sustaining CTZ functions.

Rathburn, AE, Levin LA, Tryon M, Gieskes JM, Martin JM, Perez ME, Fodrie FJ, Neira C, Fryer GJ, Mendoza G, McMillan PA, Kluesner J, Adamic J, Ziebis W.  2009.  Geological and biological heterogeneity of the Aleutian margin (1965-4822 m). Progress in Oceanography. 80:22-50.   10.1016/j.pocean.2008.12.002   AbstractWebsite

Geological, biological and biogeochemical characterization of the previously unexplored margin off Unimak Island, Alaska between 1965 and 4822 m water depth was conducted to examine: (1) the geological processes that shaped the margin, (2) the linkages between depth, geomorphology and environmental disturbance in structuring benthic communities of varying size classes and (3) the existence, composition and nutritional sources of methane seep biota on this margin. The study area was mapped and sampled using multibeam sonar, a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) and a towed camera system. Our results provide the first characterization of the Aleutian margin mid and lower slope benthic communities (micro-biota, foraminifera, macrofauna and megafauna), recognizing diverse habitats in a variety of settings. Our investigations also revealed that the geologic feature known as the "Ugamak Slide" is not a slide at all, and could not have resulted from a large 1946 earthquake. However, sediment disturbance appears to be a pervasive feature of this margin. We speculate that the deep-sea occurrence of high densities of Elphidium, typically a shallow-water foraminiferan, results from the influence of sediment redeposition from shallower habitats. Strong representation of cumacean, amphipod and tanaid crustaceans among the Unimak macrofauna may also reflect sediment instability. Although some faunal abundances decline with depth, habitat heterogeneity and disturbance generated by canyons and methane seepage appear to influence abundances of biota in ways that supercede any clear depth gradient in organic matter input. Measures of sediment organic matter and pigment content as well as C and N isotopic signatures were highly heterogeneous, although the availability of organic matter and the abundance of microorganisms in the upper sediment (1-5 cm) were positively correlated. We report the first methane seep on the Aleutian slope in the Unimak region (3263-3285 m), comprised of clam bed, pogonophoran field and carbonate habitats. Seep foraminiferal assemblages were dominated by agglutinated taxa, except for habitats above the seafloor on pogonophoran tubes. Numerous infaunal taxa in clam bed and pogonophoran field sediments and deep-sea "reef' cnidarians (e.g., corals and hydroids) residing on rocks near seepage sites exhibited light organic delta(13)C signatures indicative of chemosynthetic nutritional sources. The extensive geological, biogeochemical and biological heterogeneity as well as disturbance features observed on the Aleutian slope provide an attractive explanation for the exceptionally high biodiversity characteristic of the world's continental margins. (C) 2008 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

Gooday, AJ, Bett BJ, Escobar E, Ingole B, Levin LA, Neira C, Raman AV, Sellanes J.  2010.  Habitat heterogeneity and its influence on benthic biodiversity in oxygen minimum zones. Marine Ecology-an Evolutionary Perspective. 31:125-147.   10.1111/j.1439-0485.2009.00348.x   AbstractWebsite

Oxygen minimum zones (OMZs; midwater regions with O(2) concentrations <0.5 ml l(-1)) are mid-water features that intercept continental margins at bathyal depths (100-1000 m). They are particularly well developed in the Eastern Pacific Ocean, the Arabian Sea and the Bay of Bengal. Based on analyses of data from these regions, we consider (i) how benthic habitat heterogeneity is manifested within OMZs, (ii) which aspects of this heterogeneity exert the greatest influence on alpha and beta diversity within particular OMZs and (iii) how heterogeneity associated with OMZs influences regional (gamma) diversity on continental margins. Sources of sea-floor habitat heterogeneity within OMZs include bottom-water oxygen and sulphide gradients, substratum characteristics, bacterial mats, and variations in the organic matter content of the sediment and pH. On some margins, hard grounds, formed of phosphorites, carbonates or biotic substrata, represent distinct subhabitats colonized by encrusting faunas. Most of the heterogeneity associated with OMZs, however, is created by strong sea-floor oxygen gradients, reinforced by changes in sediment characteristics and organic matter content. For the Pakistan margin, combining these parameters revealed clear environmental and faunal differences between the OMZ core and the upper and lower boundary regions. In all Pacific and Arabian Sea OMZs examined, oxygen appears to be the master driver of alpha and beta diversity in all benthic faunal groups for which data exist, as well as macrofaunal assemblage composition, particularly in the OMZ core. However, other factors, notably organic matter quantity and quality and sediment characteristics, come into play as oxygen concentrations begin to rise. The influence of OMZs on meiofaunal, macrofaunal and megafaunal regional (gamma) diversity is difficult to assess. Hypoxia is associated with a reduction in species richness in all benthic faunal groups, but there is also evidence for endemism in OMZ settings. We conclude that, on balance, OMZs probably enhance regional diversity, particularly in taxa such as Foraminifera, which are more tolerant of hypoxia than others. Over evolutionary timescales, they may promote speciation by creating strong gradients in selective pressures and barriers to gene flow.

Fodrie, FJ, Levin LA, Rathburn AE.  2009.  High densities and depth-associated changes of epibenthic megafauna along the Aleutian margin from 2000-4200 m. Journal of the Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom. 89:1517-1527.   10.1017/s0025315409000903   AbstractWebsite

The Aleutian margin is a dynamic environment underlying a productive coastal ocean and subject to frequent tectonic disturbance. In July 2004, We used over 500 individual bottom images from towed camera transects to investigate patterns of epibenthic megafaunal density and community composition on the contiguous Aleutian margin (53 degrees N 163 degrees W) at depths of 2000 m, 3200 m and 4200 M. We also examined the influence of vertical isolation on the megafaunal assemblage across a topographic rise at 3200 m, located 30 km from the main margin and elevated 800 m above the surrounding seafloor. In comparison to previous reports from bathyal and abyssal depths, megafaunal densities along the Aleutian margin were remarkably high, averaging 5.38 +/- 0.43 (mean +/- 1 standard error), 0.32 +/- 0.02 to 0.43 +/- 0.03 and 0.27 +/- 0.01 individuals m(-2) at 2000 m, 3200 m and 4200 m, respectively. Diversity at 2000 M Was elevated by 15-30% over the deeper sites (3200-4200 m) depending on the metric, while evenness was depressed by similar to 10%. Levels of richness and evenness were similar among the three deeper sites. Echinoderms were the most abundant phylum at each depth; ophiuroids accounted for 89% of individuals in photographs at 2000 m, echinoids were dominant at 3200 M (39%), and holothurians dominated at 4200 m (47%). We observed a 26% reduction in megafaunal density across the summit of the topographic rise relative to that documented on the continental slope at the same depth. However, the two communities at 3200 m were very similar in composition. Together, these data support the modified 'archibenthal zone of transition' framework for slope community patterns with distinct communities along the middle and lower slope (the upper slope was not evaluated here). This study fills a geographical gap by providing baseline information for a relatively pristine, high-latitude, deep-sea benthic ecosystem. As pressures grow for drilling, fishing and mining on high-latitude margins, such data can serve as a reference point for much-needed studies on the ecology, long-term dynamics, and anthropogenically induced change of these habitats.

Cordes, EE, Cunha MR, Galeron J, Mora C, Olu-Le Roy K, Sibuet M, Van Gaever S, Vanreusel A, Levin LA.  2010.  The influence of geological, geochemical, and biogenic habitat heterogeneity on seep biodiversity. Marine Ecology-an Evolutionary Perspective. 31:51-65.   10.1111/j.1439-0485.2009.00334.x   AbstractWebsite

Cold seeps are among the most heterogeneous of all continental margin habitats. Abiotic Sources of heterogeneity in these systems include local variability in fluid flow, geochemistry, and substrate type, which give rise to different sets of microbial communities, microbial symbiont-bearing foundation species, and associated heterotrophic species. Biogenic habitats created by microbial mats and the symbiotic species including vesicomyid clams, bathymodiolin mussels, and siboglinid tubeworms add an additional layer of complexity to seep habitats. These forms of habitat heterogeneity result in a variety of macrofaunal and meiofaunal communities that respond to changes in structural complexity, habitat geochemistry, nutrient sources, and interspecific interactions in different ways and at different scales. These responses are predicted by a set of theoretical metacommunity models, the most appropriate of which for seep systems appears to be the 'species sorting' concept, an extension of niche theory. This concept is demonstrated through predictable patterns of community assembly, succession, and beta-level diversity. These processes are described using a newly developed analytical technique examining the change in the slope of the species accumulation curve with the number of habitats examined. The diversity response to heterogeneity has a consistent form, but quantitatively changes at different seep sites around the world as the types of habitats present and the size-classes of fauna analyzed change. The increase in beta diversity across seep habitat types demonstrates that cold seeps and associated biogenic habitats are significant sources of heterogeneity on continental margins globally.

Levin, LA, Dibacco C.  1995.  Influence of sediment transport on short-term recolonization by seamount infauna. Marine Ecology-Progress Series. 123:163-175.   10.3354/meps123163   AbstractWebsite

Rates and mechanisms of infaunal recolonization in contrasting sediment transport regimes were examined by deploying hydrodynamically unbiased colonization trays at 2 sites similar to 2 km apart on the flat summit plain of Fieberling Guyot in the eastern Pacific Ocean. Both study sites experienced strong bottom currents and high shear velocity (u* exceeding 1.0 cm s(-1) daily). Macrofaunal recolonization of defaunated sediments on Fieberling Guyot was slow relative to observations in shallow-water sediments, but rapid compared to other unenriched deep-sea treatments. Microbial colonization was slower but macrofaunal colonization was faster at White Sand Swale (WSS, 585 m), where rippled foraminiferal sands migrate daily, than at Sea Pen Rim (SPR, 635 m), where the basaltic sands move infrequently. Total densities of macrofaunal colonizers at WSS were 31 and 75% of ambient after 7 wk and 6.4 mo, respectively; at SPR they were 6 and 49% of ambient, respectively. Over 3/4 of the colonists were polychaetes (predominantly hesionids and dorvilleids) and aplacophoran molluscs. Species richness of colonizers was comparable at SPR and WSS and did not differ substantially from ambient. Most of the species (91%) and individuals (95%) recovered in colonization trays were taxa present in background cores. However, only 25% of the taxa colonizing tray sediments occurred in trays at both WSS and SPR. Sessile species, carnivores and surface feeders were initially slow to appear in colonization trays, but after 6.4 mo, colonizer feeding modes, life habits and mobility patterns mirrored those in ambient sediments at WSS and SPR. Defaunated sediments were colonized by larvae, juveniles and adults at both sites. These experiments provide the first observations of infaunal colonization on seamounts, and in deep, high-energy settings. Passive bedload transport appears to be a dominant colonization mechanism in unstable foraminiferal sands at WSS. Based on the rapid recovery of infauna in trays and low diversity at WSS, we infer that disturbance is a natural feature of this site and that the ambient fauna of WSS retains features of early succession. Infaunal colonization is slower in the stable substrate at SPR, where physical disturbance may occur much less frequently.

Raman, AV, Damodaran R, Levin LA, Ganesh T, Rao YKV, Nanduri S, Madhusoodhanan R.  2015.  Macrobenthos relative to the oxygen minimum zone on the East Indian margin, Bay of Bengal. Marine Ecology-an Evolutionary Perspective. 36:679-700.   10.1111/maec.12176   AbstractWebsite

The Bay of Bengal remains one of the least studied of the world's oxygen minimum zones (OMZs). Here we offer a detailed investigation of the macrobenthos relative to oxygen minimum zone [OMZ - DO (dissolved oxygen), concentration <0.5ml1(-1)] at 110 stations off the North East Indian margin (16(0) and 20(0)N) featuring coastal, shelf and slope settings (10-1004m). Macrobenthos (>0.5mm) composition, abundance and diversity were studied in relation to variations in depth, dissolved oxygen, sediment texture and organic carbon. Using multivariate procedures powered by SIMPROF analysis we identified distinct OMZ core sites (depth 150-280m; DO 0.37ml1(-1)) that exhibited dense populations of surface-feeding polychaetes (mean 2188 ind. m(-2)) represented by spionids and cossurids (96%). Molluscs and crustaceans were poorly represented except for ampeliscid amphipods. The lower OMZ sites (DO>0.55mll(-1)) supported a different assemblage of polychaetes (cirratulids, amphinomids, eunicids, orbinids, paraonids), crustaceans and molluscs, albeit with low population densities (mean 343 ind. m(-2)). Species richness [E(S-100)], diversity (Margalef d; H') and evenness (J') were lower and dominance was higher within the OMZ core region. Multiple regression analysis showed that a combination of sand, clay, organic carbon, and dissolved oxygen explained 62-78% of the observed variance in macrobenthos species richness and diversity: E(S-100) and H'. For polychaetes, clay and oxygen proved important. At low oxygen sites (DO <1mll(-1)), depth accounted for most variance. Residual analysis (after removing depth effects) revealed that dissolved oxygen and sediment organic matter influenced 50-62% of residual variation in E(S-100), H' and d for total macrofauna. Of this, oxygen alone influenced up to similar to 50-62%. When only polychaetes were evaluated, oxygen and organic matter explained up to 58-63%. For low oxygen sites, organic matter alone had the explanatory power when dominance among polychaetes was considered. Overall, macrobenthic patterns in the Bay of Bengal were consistent with those reported for other upwelling margins. However, the compression of faunal gradients at shallower depths was most similar to the Chile/Peru margin, and different from the Arabian Sea, where the depth range of the OMZ is two times greater. The Bay of Bengal patterns may take on added significance as OMZs shoal globally.

Levin, LA, McGregor AL, Mendoza GF, Woulds C, Cross P, Witte U, Gooday AJ, Cowie G, Kitazato H.  2013.  Macrofaunal colonization across the Indian margin oxygen minimum zone. Biogeosciences. 10:7161-7177.   10.5194/bg-10-7161-2013   AbstractWebsite

There is a growing need to understand the ability of bathyal assemblages to recover from disturbance and oxygen stress, as human activities and expanding oxygen minimum zones increasingly affect deep continental margins. The effects of a pronounced oxygen minimum zone (OMZ) on slope benthic community structure have been studied on every major upwelling margin; however, little is known about the dynamics or resilience of these benthic populations. To examine the influence of oxygen and phytodetritus on shortterm settlement patterns, we conducted colonization experiments at 3 depths on the West Indian continental margin. Four colonization trays were deployed at each depth for 4 days at 542 and 802 m (transect 1-16 degrees 58 ' N) and for 9 days at 817 and 1147 m (transect 2-17 degrees 31 ' N). Oxygen concentrations ranged from 0.9 mu M (0.02 mLL(-1)) at 542 m to 22 mu M (0.5 mLL(-1) ) at 1147 m. All trays contained local defaunated sediments; half of the trays at each depth also contained C-13/N-15-labeled phytodetritus mixed into the sediments. Sediment cores were collected between 535 m and 1140 m from 2 cross-margin transects for analysis of ambient (source) macrofaunal (> 300 mu m) densities and composition. Ambient macrofaunal densities ranged from 0 ind m(-2) (at 535-542 m) to 7400 ind m(-2), with maximum values on both transects at 700-800 m. Macrofaunal colonizer densities ranged from 0 ind m(-2) at 542 m, where oxygen was lowest, to average values of 142 ind m(-2) at 800 m, and 3074 ind m(-2) at 1147 m, where oxygen concentration was highest. These were equal to 4.3 and 151% of the ambient community at 800 m and 1147 m, respectively. Community structure of settlers showed no response to the presence of phytodetritus. Increasing depth and oxygen concentration, however, significantly influenced the community composition and abundance of colonizing macrofauna. Polychaetes constituted 92.4% of the total colonizers, followed by crustaceans (4.2%), mollusks (2.5%), and echinoderms (0.8%). The majority of colonizers were found at 1147 m; 88.5% of these were Capitella sp., although they were rare in the ambient community. Colonists at 800 and 1147 m also included ampharetid, spionid, syllid, lumbrinerid, cirratulid, cossurid and sabellid polychaetes. Consumption of C-13/N-15-labeled phytodetritus was observed for macrofaunal foraminifera (too large to be colonizers) at the 542 and 802/817 m sites, and by metazoan macrofauna mainly at the deepest, better oxygenated sites. Calcareous foraminifera (Uvigerina, Hoeglundina sp.), capitellid polychaetes and cumaceans were among the major phytodetritus consumers. These preliminary experiments suggest that bottom-water oxygen concentrations may strongly influence ecosystem services on continental margins, as reflected in rates of colonization by benthos and colonizer processing of carbon following disturbance. They may also provide a window into future patterns of settlement on the continental slope as the world's oxygen minimum zones expand.

Neira, C, Sellanes J, Levin LA, Arntz WE.  2001.  Meiofaunal distributions on the Peru margin: relationship to oxygen and organic matter availability. Deep-Sea Research Part I-Oceanographic Research Papers. 48:2453-2472.   10.1016/s0967-0637(01)00018-8   AbstractWebsite

A quantitative study of metazoan meiofauna was carried out on bathyal sediments (305, 562, 830 and 1210 m) along a transect within and beneath the oxygen minimum zone (OMZ) in the southeastern Pacific off Callao, Peru (12 degreesS). Meiobenthos densities ranged from 1517 (upper slope, middle of OMZ) to 440-548 ind. 10cm(-2) (lower slope stations, beneath the OMZ). Nematodes were the numerically dominant meiofaunal taxon at every station, followed by copepods and nauplii. Increasing bottom-water oxygen concentration and decreasing organic matter availability downslope were correlated with observed changes in meiofaunal abundance. The 300-m site, located in the middle of the OMZ, differed significantly in meiofaunal abundance, dominance, and in vertical distribution pattern from the deeper sites. At 305 m, nematodes amounted to over 99% of total meiofauna; about 70% of nematodes were found in the 2-5 cm. interval. At the deeper sites, about 50% were restricted to the top I cm. The importance of copepods and nauplii increased consistently with depth, reaching similar to 12% of the total meiofauna at the deepest site. The observation of high nematode abundances at oxygen concentrations <0.02mll(-1) supports the hypothesis that densities are enhanced by an indirect positive effect of low oxygen involving (a) reduction of predators and competitors and (b) preservation of organic matter leading to high food availability and quality. Food input and quality, represented here by chloroplastic pigment equivalents (CPE) and sedimentary labile organic compounds (protein, carbohydrates and lipids), were strongly, positively correlated with nematode abundance. By way of contrast, oxygen exhibited a strong negative correlation, overriding food availability, with abundance of other meiofauna such as copepods and nauplii. These taxa were absent at the 300-m site. The high correlation of labile organic matter (C-LOM, sum of carbon contents in lipids, proteins and carbohydrates) with CPE (Pearson's r = 0.99, p <0.01) suggests that most of the sedimentary organic material sampled was of phytodetrital origin. The fraction of sediment organic carbon potentially available to benthic. heterotrophs, measured as C-LOM/Total organic carbon, was on average 17% at all stations. Thus, a residual, refractory fraction, constitutes the major portion of organic matter at the studied bathyal sites. (C) 2001 Elsevier Science Ltd. All rights reserved.

Case, DH, Pasulka AL, Marlow JJ, Grupe BM, Levin LA, Orphan VJ.  2015.  Methane seep carbonates host distinct, diverse, and dynamic microbial assemblages. Mbio. 6   10.1128/mBio.01348-15   AbstractWebsite

Marine methane seeps are globally distributed geologic features in which reduced fluids, including methane, are advected upward from the subsurface. As a result of alkalinity generation during sulfate-coupled methane oxidation, authigenic carbonates form slabs, nodules, and extensive pavements. These carbonates shape the landscape within methane seeps, persist long after methane flux is diminished, and in some cases are incorporated into the geologic record. In this study, microbial assemblages from 134 native and experimental samples across 5,500 km, representing a range of habitat substrates (carbonate nodules and slabs, sediment, bottom water, and wood) and seepage conditions (active and low activity), were analyzed to address two fundamental questions of seep microbial ecology: (i) whether carbonates host distinct microbial assemblages and (ii) how sensitive microbial assemblages are to habitat substrate type and temporal shifts in methane seepage flux. Through massively parallel 16S rRNA gene sequencing and statistical analysis, native carbonates are shown to be reservoirs of distinct and highly diverse seep microbial assemblages. Unique coupled transplantation and colonization experiments on the seafloor demonstrated that carbonate-associated microbial assemblages are resilient to seep quiescence and reactive to seep activation over 13 months. Various rates of response to simulated seep quiescence and activation are observed among similar phylogenies (e.g., Chloroflexi operational taxonomic units) and similar metabolisms (e.g., putative S oxidizers), demonstrating the wide range of microbial sensitivity to changes in seepage flux. These results imply that carbonates do not passively record a time-integrated history of seep microorganisms but rather host distinct, diverse, and dynamic microbial assemblages. IMPORTANCE Since their discovery in 1984, the global distribution and importance of marine methane seeps have become increasingly clear. Much of our understanding of methane seep microorganisms-from metabolisms to community ecology-has stemmed from detailed studies of seep sediments. However, it has become apparent that carbonates represent a volumetrically significant habitat substrate at methane seeps. Through combined in situ characterization and incubation experiments, this study demonstrates that carbonates host microbial assemblages distinct from and more diverse than those of other seep habitats. This emphasizes the importance of seep carbonates as biodiversity locales. Furthermore, we demonstrate that carbonate-associated microbial assemblages are well adapted to withstand fluctuations in methane seepage, and we gain novel insight into particular taxa that are responsive (or recalcitrant) to changes in seep conditions.

Levin, LA, Talley TS.  2002.  Natural and manipulated sources of heterogeneity controlling early faunal development of a salt marsh. Ecological Applications. 12:1785-1802.   10.2307/3099938   AbstractWebsite

Ecosystem recovery following wetland restoration offers exceptional opportunities to study system structure, function, and successional processes in salt marshes. This study used observations of natural variation and large-scale manipulative experiments to test the influence of vascular vegetation and soil organic matter on the rate and trajectory of macrofaunal recovery in a southern California created salt marsh, the Crown Point Mitigation Site. During the first three years following marsh establishment, macrofaunal density and species richness recovered rapidly within the Spartina foliosa (cordgrass) zone; densities in the created marsh were 50% of those in the natural marsh after 16 mo and 97% after 28 mo. However, the early successional assemblage had a lower proportion of tubificid and enchytraeid oligochaetes, and a higher proportion of chironomids and other insect larvae than did the mature natural marsh. Most of the colonizers arrived by rafting on sea grass and algae rather than by larval dispersal. Initial planting of S. foliosa had no influence on macrofaunal recovery, perhaps because of variable transplant survival. However, subsequently, both positive and negative correlations were observed between densities of some macrofaunal taxa and shoot densities of S. foliosa or Salicornia spp. (pickleweed). Salinity and measures of soil organics (belowground biomass, combustible organic matter, and chlorophyll a) also were correlated with macrofaunal densities and taxon richness. Of foul added soil amendments (kelp, alfalfa, peat, and Milorganite), Milorganite (a sewage product) and kelp both promoted macrofaunal colonization during year 1, but effects were short lived. The most significant sources of heterogeneity in the recovering marsh were associated with site history and climate variation. Faunal recovery was most rapid in highly localized, organic-rich marsh sediments that were remnants of the historical wetland. Elevated sea level during the 1998 El Nino corresponded with similarity of macrofaunal communities in the created and natural marshes. The large spatial scale and multi-year duration of this study revealed that natural sources of spatial and temporal heterogeneity may exert stronger influence on faunal succession in California wetlands than manipulation of vegetation or soil properties.

Levin, LA, Whitcraft CR, Mendoza GF, Gonzalez JP, Cowie G.  2009.  Oxygen and organic matter thresholds for benthic faunal activity on the Pakistan margin oxygen minimum zone (700-1100 m). Deep-Sea Research Part Ii-Topical Studies in Oceanography. 56:449-471.   10.1016/j.dsr2.2008.05.032   AbstractWebsite

A transition from fully laminated to highly bioturbated sediments on continental margins is thought to derive from increased animal activity associated with increasing bottom-water oxygen concentration. We examined faunal community responses to oxygen and organic matter gradients across the lower oxygen minimum zone (OMZ) on the bathyal Pakistan margin, where sediments grade from fully laminated sediment at 700m (0.12 mLL(-1) O(2) [5 mu M]) to highly bioturbated sediment at 1100 m (0.23 mLL(-1) O(2) [10 mu M]). High-resolution sampling of the seafloor (every 50 m water depth) was conducted along a single transect during inter- and post-monsoon periods in 2003 to address (a) the existence of oxygen thresholds regulating macrofaunal abundance, composition, diversity and lifestyles, (b) the interactive effects of organic matter quantity and quality, (c) associated community effects on sediment structure, and (d) potential seasonality in these processes. Macrofaunal biomass and bioturbation depth were positively correlated with organic matter availability, which peaked at 850-950 m (3.39-3.53% Org. Q. In contrast, macrofaunal diversity (HI), dominance (RID), and burrow number exhibited threshold responses at oxygen concentrations of 0.12-0.20 mLL(-1) [5-9 mu M]), with few animals and highly laminated sediments present below this concentration and most taxa present in fully bioturbated sediments above it. The highly mobile, burrowing amphinomid polychaete Linopherus sp. exhibited almost complete dominance and high density at 750-850 m (0.12-0.14 mLL(-1) O(2) [5-6 mu M]), but despite its activity, sediment laminae remained faintly visible. Formation of permanent burrows and detritivory were dominant macrofaunal lifestyles within the OMZ, allowing laminae to persist at surprisingly high animal density and biomass. Results reflect a shift from organic matter to oxygen regulation of body size and biogenic structures following the monsoon. This study suggests that for assemblages evolving under permanent severe hypoxia, food availability remains a significant determinant of animal abundance and biogenic structure depth. Oxygen influences patterns of diversity and dominance and interacts with organic matter to generate abrupt faunal transitions on the Pakistan margin. (C) 2008 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.