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2016
Burkett, AM, Rathburn AE, Perez ME, Levin LA, Martin JB.  2016.  Colonization of over a thousand Cibicidoides wuellerstorfi (foraminifera: Schwager, 1866) on artificial substrates in seep and adjacent off-seep locations in dysoxic, deep-sea environments. Deep-Sea Research Part I-Oceanographic Research Papers. 117:39-50.   10.1016/j.dsr.2016.08.011   AbstractWebsite

After-1 yr on the seafloor at water depths of similar to 700 m on Hydrate Ridge in the Pacific, eight colonization experiments composed primarily of a plastic mesh cube (from here on refered to as SEA(3), for Seafloor Epibenthic Attachment Cubes) were colonized by 1076 Cibicidoides wuellerstorfi on similar to 1841 cm(2) of experimental substrate. This species is typically considered an indicator of well-oxygenated conditions, and recruitment of such large numbers in bottom waters with low dissolved oxygen availability (0.24-0.37 mL/L) indicate that this taxon may not be as limited by oxygen as previously thought. Clues about substrate preferences were evident from the distribution, or lack thereof, of individuals among plastic mesh, coated steel frame, wooden dowels and reflective tape. Abundance, individual size distributions within cage populations and isotopic biogeochemistry of living foraminifera colonizing experimental substrates were compared between active seep and adjacent off seep experiment locations, revealing potential differences between these environments. Few studies have examined foraminiferal colonization of hard substrates in the deep-sea and to our knowledge no previous study has compared foraminiferal colonization of active seep and off-seep substrates from the same region. This study provides initial results of recruitment, colonization, geochemical and morphological aspects of the paleoceanographically significant species, C. wuellerstorfi, from dynamic deep-sea environments. Further experimental deployments of SEA(3)s will provide a means to assess relatively unknown ecologic dynamics of important foraminiferal deep-sea species.

2015
Grupe, BM, Krach ML, Pasulka AL, Maloney JM, Levin LA, Frieder CA.  2015.  Methane seep ecosystem functions and services from a recently discovered southern California seep. Marine Ecology-an Evolutionary Perspective. 36:91-108.   10.1111/maec.12243   AbstractWebsite

The recent discovery of a methane seep with diverse microhabitats and abundant groundfish in the San Diego Trough (1020 m) off the coast of Del Mar, California raised questions about the role of seep ecosystem functions and services in relation to continental margins. We used multicorer and ROV grab samples and an ROV survey to characterize macrofaunal structure, diversity, and trophic patterns in soft sediments and authigenic carbonates; seep microhabitats and taxa observed; and the abundance and spatial patterns of fishery-relevant species. Biogenic microhabitats near the Del Mar Seep included microbially precipitated carbonate boulders, bacterial mats, vesicomyid clam beds, frenulate and ampharetid beds, vestimentiferan tubeworm clumps, and fields of Bathysiphon filiformis tubes. Macrofaunal abundance increased and mean faunal delta C-13 signatures decreased in multicorer samples nearer the seep, suggesting that chemosynthetic production enhanced animal densities outside the seep center. Polychaetes dominated sediments, and ampharetids became especially abundant near microbial mats, while gastropods, hydroids, and sponges dominated carbonate rocks. A wide range of stable isotopic signatures reflected the diversity of microhabitats, and methane-derived carbon was the most prevalent source of nutrition for several taxa, especially those associated with carbonates. Megafaunal species living near the seep included longspine thornyhead (Sebastolobus altivelis), Pacific dover sole (Microstomus pacificus), and lithodid crabs (Paralomis verrilli), which represent targets for demersal fisheries. Sebastolobus altivelis was especially abundant (6.5-8.2 fish.100 m(-2)) and appeared to aggregate near the most active seep microhabitats. The Del Mar Methane Seep, like many others along the world's continental margins, exhibits diverse ecosystem functions and enhances regional diversity. Seeps such as this one may also contribute ecosystem services if they provide habitat for fishery species, export production to support margin food webs, and serve as sinks for methane-derived carbon.

Burkett, AM, Rathburn AE, Perez ME, Levin LA, Cha H, Rouse GW.  2015.  Phylogenetic placement of Cibicidoides wuellerstorfi (Schwager, 1866) from methane seeps and non-seep habitats on the Pacific margin. Geobiology. 13:44-52.   10.1111/gbi.12118   AbstractWebsite

Benthic foraminifera are among the most abundant groups found in deep-sea habitats, including methane seep environments. Unlike many groups, no endemic foraminiferal species have been reported from methane seeps, and to our knowledge, genetic data are currently sparse for Pacific deep-sea foraminifera. In an effort to understand the relationships between seep and non-seep populations of the deep-sea foraminifera Cibicidoides wuellerstorfi, a common paleo-indicator species, specimens from methane seeps in the Pacific were analyzed and compared to one another for genetic similarities of small subunit rDNA (SSU rDNA) sequences. Pacific Ocean C. wuellerstorfi were also compared to those collected from other localities around the world (based on 18S gene available on Genbank, e.g., Schweizer et al., 2009). Results from this study revealed that C. wuellerstorfi living in seeps near Costa Rica and Hydrate Ridge are genetically similar to one another at the species level. Individuals collected from the same location that display opposite coiling directions (dextral and sinstral) had no species level genetic differences. Comparisons of specimens with genetic information available from Genbank (SSU rDNA) showed that Pacific individuals, collected for this study, are genetically similar to those previously analyzed from the North Atlantic and Antarctic. These observations provide strong evidence for the true cosmopolitan nature of C. wuellerstorfi and highlight the importance of understanding how these microscopic organisms are able to maintain sufficient genetic exchange to remain within the same species between seep and non-seep habitats and over global distances.

2013
Bowden, DA, Rowden AA, Thurber AR, Baco AR, Levin LA, Smith CR.  2013.  Cold seep epifaunal communities on the Hikurangi Margin, New Zealand: Composition, succession, and vulnerability to human activities. Plos One. 8   10.1371/journal.pone.0076869   AbstractWebsite

Cold seep communities with distinctive chemoautotrophic fauna occur where hydrocarbon-rich fluids escape from the seabed. We describe community composition, population densities, spatial extent, and within-region variability of epifaunal communities at methane-rich cold seep sites on the Hikurangi Margin, New Zealand. Using data from towed camera transects, we match observations to information about the probable life-history characteristics of the principal fauna to develop a hypothetical succession sequence for the Hikurangi seep communities, from the onset of fluid flux to senescence. New Zealand seep communities exhibit taxa characteristic of seeps in other regions, including predominance of large siboglinid tubeworms, vesicomyid clams, and bathymodiolin mussels. Some aspects appear to be novel; however, particularly the association of dense populations of ampharetid polychaetes with high-sulphide, high-methane flux, soft-sediment microhabitats. The common occurrence of these ampharetids suggests they play a role in conditioning sulphide-rich sediments at the sediment-water interface, thus facilitating settlement of clam and tubeworm taxa which dominate space during later successional stages. The seep sites are subject to disturbance from bottom trawling at present and potentially from gas hydrate extraction in future. The likely life-history characteristics of the dominant megafauna suggest that while ampharetids, clams, and mussels exploit ephemeral resources through rapid growth and reproduction, lamellibrachid tubeworm populations may persist potentially for centuries. The potential consequences of gas hydrate extraction cannot be fully assessed until extraction methods and target localities are defined but any long-term modification of fluid flow to seep sites would have consequences for all chemoautotrophic fauna.

2009
Basak, C, Rathburn AE, Perez ME, Martin JB, Kluesner JW, Levin LA, De Deckker P, Gieskes JM, Abriani M.  2009.  Carbon and oxygen isotope geochemistry of live (stained) benthic foraminifera from the Aleutian Margin and the Southern Australian Margin. Marine Micropaleontology. 70:89-101.   10.1016/j.marmicro.2008.11.002   AbstractWebsite

Comparisons of ambient bottom-water geochemistry and stable isotopic values of the tests of living (stained) calcareous benthic foraminifera from the North Pacific (on the Aleutian Margin, water depth 1988 m) and Murray Canyons group in the Southern Indian Ocean (Australian Margin, water depths 2476 m and 1634 m) provide modem environmental analogs to calibrate paleoenvironmental assessments. Consistent with the hypothesis that microhabitat preferences influence foraminiferal isotopic values, benthic foraminifera from both margins were depleted in (13)C with respect to bottom-water dissolved inorganic carbon (DIC). The carbon isotope values of deep infaunal foraminifera (Chilostomella oolina, Globobulimina pacifica) showed greater differences from estimates of those of DIC than shallow benthic foraminifera (Bulimina mexicana, Bolivinita quadrilatera, Pullenia bulloides). This study provides new isotopic and ecological information for B. quadrilatera. The mean Delta delta(13)C value, defined as foraminiferal delta(13)C values minus estimated ambient delta(13)C values from the Aleutian Margin, is 0.97 parts per thousand higher for G. pacifica than the mean from the Murray Canyon. This difference may result either from genetic or biological differences between the populations or from differences in environmental isotopic influences (such as pore water differences) that were not accounted for in the equilibrium calculations. These analyses provide calibration information for the evaluation of bottom water conditions and circulation patterns of ancient oceans based on fossil foraminiferal geochemistry. (C) 2008 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.

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.

2007
Levin, LA, Mendoza GF.  2007.  Community structure and nutrition of deep methane-seep macrobenthos from the North Pacific (Aleutian) Margin and the Gulf of Mexico (Florida Escarpment). Marine Ecology-an Evolutionary Perspective. 28:131-151.   10.1111/j.1439-0485.2006.00131.x   AbstractWebsite

Methane seeps occur at depths extending to over 7000 m along the world's continental margins, but there is little information about the infaunal communities inhabiting sediments of seeps deeper than 3000 m. Biological sampling was carried out off Unimak Island (3200-3300 m) and Kodiak Island (4500 m) on the Aleutian margin, Pacific Ocean and along the Florida Escarpment (3300 m) in the Gulf of Mexico to investigate the community structure and nutrition of macrofauna at these sites. We addressed whether there are characteristic infaunal communities common to the deep-water seeps or to the specific habitats (clam beds, pogonophoran fields, and microbial mats) studied here, and ask how these differ from background communities or from shallow-seep settings sampled previously. We also investigated, using stable isotopic signatures, the utilization of chemosynthetically fixed and methane-derived organic matter by macrofauna from different regions and habitats. Within seep sites, macrofaunal densities were the greatest in the Florida microbial mats (20,961 +/- 11,618 ind(.)m(2)), the lowest in the Florida pogonophoran fields (926 +/- 132 ind(.)m(2)), and intermediate in the Unimak and Kodiak seep habitats. Seep macrofaunal densities differed from those in nearby non-seep sediments only in Florida mat habitats, where a single, abundant species of hesionid polychaete comprised 70% of the macrofauna. Annelids were the dominant taxon (> 60%) at all sites and habitats except in Florida background sediments (33%) and Unimak pogonophoran fields (27%). Macrofaunal diversity (H') was lower at the Florida than the Alaska seeps, with a trend toward reduced richness in clam bed relative to pogonophoran field or non-seep sediments. Community composition differences between seep and non-seep sediments were evident in each region except for the Unimak margin, but pogonophoran and clam bed macrofaunal communities did not differ from one another in Alaska. Seep VC and delta N-15 signatures were lighter for seep than non-seep macrofauna in all regions, indicating use of chemosynthetically derived carbon. The lightest delta C-13 values (average of species' means) were observed at the Florida escarpment (-42.87 parts per thousand). We estimated that on average animal tissues had up to 55% methane-derived carbon in Florida mats, 3144% in Florida clam beds and Kodiak clam beds and pogonophoran fields, and 9-23% in Unimak seep habitats. However, some taxa such as hesionid and capitellid polychaetes exhibited tremendous intraspecific 613C variation (> 307.0) between patch types. Overall we found few characteristic communities or features common to the three deep-water seeps (> 3000 m), but common properties across habitats (mat, clam bed, pogonophorans), independent of location or water depth. In general, macrofaunal densities were lower (except at Florida microbial mats), community structure was similar, and reliance on chemosynthesis was greater than observed in shallower seeps off California and Oregon.

2006
Levin, LA, Ziebis W, Mendoza GF, Growney-Cannon V, Walther S.  2006.  Recruitment response of methane-seep macrofauna to sulfide-rich sediments: An in situ experiment. Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology. 330:132-150.   10.1016/j.jembe.2005.12.022   AbstractWebsite

Hydrodynamically unbiased colonization trays were deployed for 6 months (Oct. 2000 to April 2001) on the northern California margin (Eel R. region; 525 m) to examine macrofaunal colonization rates at methane seeps. The influence of sulfide on recruitment and survival was examined by deploying sediments with and without sulfide added; effect of seep proximity was evaluated by placing trays inside and outside seeps. The trays contained a two-layer system mimicking vesicomyid clam bed habitat geochemistry, with 89 9 mM sulfide in a lower agar layer at the start of the experiment. After 6 month on the seabed, the lower agar layer contained 2-4 mM H2S. We observed rapid macrofaunal colonization equivalent to 50% of initial non-seep ambient densities. There was no difference in total colonizer densities, number of species, or rarefaction diversity among 3 treatments: (1) controls (no sulfide added) placed outside seeps, (2) trays with sulfide added placed outside seeps and (3) trays with sulfide added placed inside seep patches. Colonization trays with sulfide placed at seeps had different species composition from trays without sulfide place outside seeps; there were more amphipods (non-ampeliscid) and cumaceans in the seep/sulfide treatment and more nemerteans, Nephtys cornuta and tanaids in the non-seep/no-sulfide treatment. Outside seeps, annelids comprised <15% of tray colonists; within seep patches, annelids comprised 5 of the top 10 dominant colonizing taxa (24% of the total). The polychaetes Mediomastus sp., Aphelochaeta sp., Paraonidae sp., and Nerillidae sp. exhibited significantly higher densities in sulfide additions. Tanaids, echinoderms, and N. cornuta exhibited sulfide avoidance. At least 6 dorvilleid polychaete species colonized the experiments. Of these, 4 species occurred exclusively in trays with sulfide added and 80% of all dorvilleid individuals were found in trays with sulfide placed inside seep sediments. Counts of large sulfur bacterial filaments were positively correlated with maximum sulfide concentration in each tray, and with proximity of sulfide to the sediment surface. However, total macrofaunal densities were not correlated with tray sulfide concentrations. As a group, tray assemblages achieved some but not all characteristics of ambient seep assemblages after 6-month exposure on the sea floor. Distinctive colonization patterns at methane seeps contribute to the dynamic mosaic of habitat patches that characterize the eastern Pacific continental margin. Overall, proximity of seep habitats had at least as great an influence on macrofaunal colonization as tray sulfide concentrations. Taxa characteristic of seep sediments were more likely to settle into trays placed inside rather than outside seep patches. Whether this is due to limited dispersal ability or local geochemical cues remains to be determined. (C) 2005 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.

2003
Levin, LA, Ziebis W, Mendoza GF, Growney VA, Tryon MD, Brown KM, Mahn C, Gieskes JM, Rathburn AE.  2003.  Spatial heterogeneity of macrofauna at northern California methane seeps: influence of sulfide concentration and fluid flow. Marine Ecology-Progress Series. 265:123-139.   10.3354/meps265123   AbstractWebsite

Relationships among fluid flow, sulfide concentration, sulfur bacteria and macrofaunal assemblages were examined at methane seeps on the northern California margin, near the mouth of the Eel River (512 to 525 m). Over a 6 mo period, sediments covered with microbial mats exhibited significant but variable outflow of altered fluids, with no flow reversals. This fluid flow was associated with high porewater sulfide concentrations (up to 20 mM) and almost no oxygen penetration of sediments (<0.1 mm). Vesicomya pacifica (clam) bed and non-seep sediments exhibited little net fluid outflow and similar oxygen penetration (3 and 4 mm, respectively); however, sulfide concentrations were higher in subsurface clam-bed sediments (up to 2 mM) than in non-seep sediments (<200 muM). Macrofaunal densities did not differ among the 3 habitats (13 800 to 16 800 ind. m(-2); >300 mum), but biomass and diversity (no. species per core, E(S-100), H') were lower and composition varied in the sulfidic microbial mat sediments relative to clam-bed and non-seep sediments. The community in microbial mat-covered sediments consisted largely (82%) of 6 species in the polychaete family Dorvilleidae, whereas the clam-bed and non-seep microhabitats supported a mixture of annelids, peracarid crustaceans, nemerteans, and mollusks. Vertical microprofiling of sulfide in animal cores indicated that most taxa avoid H2S concentrations >1 mM. However, sulfide-oxidizing filamentous bacteria, dorvilleid polychaetes and bivalves (mainly V. pacifica) exhibited highest densities at sulfide concentrations of 1 to 5 mM sulfide. Horizontal and vertical patterns of sulfide availability have a strong influence on the fine-scale distribution, structure and composition of macrofaunal assemblages inhabiting methane seeps and must be accounted for when characterizing the microbiology and ecology of seep habitats.