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2009
Middelburg, JJ, Levin LA.  2009.  Coastal hypoxia and sediment biogeochemistry. Biogeosciences. 6:1273-1293. AbstractWebsite

The intensity, duration and frequency of coastal hypoxia (oxygen concentration < 63 mu M) are increasing due to human alteration of coastal ecosystems and changes in oceanographic conditions due to global warming. Here we provide a concise review of the consequences of coastal hypoxia for sediment biogeochemistry. Changes in bottom-water oxygen levels have consequences for early diagenetic pathways (more anaerobic at expense of aerobic pathways), the efficiency of re-oxidation of reduced metabolites and the nature, direction and magnitude of sediment-water exchange fluxes. Hypoxia may also lead to more organic matter accumulation and burial and the organic matter eventually buried is also of higher quality, i.e. less degraded. Bottom-water oxygen levels also affect the organisms involved in organic matter processing with the contribution of metazoans decreasing as oxygen levels drop. Hypoxia has a significant effect on benthic animals with the consequences that ecosystem functions related to macrofauna such as bio-irrigation and bioturbation are significantly affected by hypoxia as well. Since many microbes and microbial-mediated biogeochemical processes depend on animal-induced transport processes (e.g. re-oxidation of particulate reduced sulphur and denitrification), there are indirect hypoxia effects on biogeochemistry via the benthos. Severe long-lasting hypoxia and anoxia may result in the accumulation of reduced compounds in sediments and elimination of macrobenthic communities with the consequences that biogeochemical properties during trajectories of decreasing and increasing oxygen may be different (hysteresis) with consequences for coastal ecosystem dynamics.

2005
Levin, LA.  2005.  Ecology of cold seep sediments: Interactions of fauna with flow, chemistry and microbes. Oceanography and Marine Biology - an Annual Review, Vol. 43. 43( Gibson RN, Atkinson RJA, Gordon JDM, Eds.).:1-46., Boca Raton: Crc Press-Taylor & Francis Group Abstract

Cold seeps occur in geologically active and passive continental margins, where pore waters enriched in methane are forced upward through the sediments by pressure gradients. The advective supply of methane leads to dense microbial communities with high metabolic rates. Anaerobic methane oxidation presumably coupled to sulphate reduction facilitates formation of carbonates and, in many places, generates extremely high concentrations of hydrogen sulphide in pore waters. Increased food supply, availability of hard substratum and high concentrations of methane and sulphide supplied to free-living and symbiotic bacteria provide the basis for the complex ecosystems found at these sites. This review examines the structures of animal communities in seep sediments and how they are shaped by hydrologic, geochemical and microbial processes. The full size range of biota is addressed but emphasis is on the mid-size sediment-dwelling infauna (foraminiferans, metazoan meiofauna and macrofauna), which have received less attention than megafauna or microbes. Megafaunal biomass at seeps, which far exceeds that of surrounding non-seep sediments, is dominated by bivalves (mytilids, vesicomyids, lucinids and thyasirids) and vestimentiferan tube worms, with pogonophorans, cladorhizid sponges, gastropods and shrimp sometimes abundant. In contrast, seep sediments at shelf and upper slope depths have infaunal densities that often differ very little from those in ambient sediments. At greater depths, seep infauna exhibit enhanced densities, modified composition and reduced diversity relative to background sediments. Dorvilleid, hesionid and ampharetid polychaetes, nematodes, and calcareous foraminiferans are dominant. There is extensive spatial heterogeneity of microbes and higher organisms at seeps. Specialized infaunal communities are associated with different seep habitats (microbial mats, clam beds, mussel beds and tube worms aggregations) and with different vertical zones in the sediment. Whereas fluid flow and associated porewater properties, in particular sulphide concentration, appear to regulate the distribution, physiological adaptations and sometimes behaviour of many seep biota, sometimes the reverse is true. Animal-microbe interactions at seeps are complex and involve symbioses, heterotrophic nutrition, geochemical feedbacks and habitat structure. Nutrition of seep fauna varies, with thiotrophic and methanotrophic symbiotic bacteria fueling most of the megafaunal forms but macrofauna and most meiofauna are mainly heterotrophic. Macrofaunal food sources are largely photosynthesis-based at shallower seeps but reflect carbon fixation by chemosynthesis and considerable incorporation of methane-derived C at deeper seeps. Export of seep carbon appears to be highly localized based on limited studies in the Gulf of Mexico. Seep ecosystems remain one of the ocean's true frontiers. Seep sediments represent some of the most extreme marine conditions and offer unbounded opportunities for discovery in the realms of animal-microbe-geochemical interactions, physiology, trophic ecology, biogeography, systematics and evolution.

2003
Levin, LA, Rathburn AE, Gutierrez D, Munoz P, Shankle A.  2003.  Bioturbation by symbiont-bearing annelids in near-anoxic sediments: Implications for biofacies models and paleo-oxygen assessments. Palaeogeography Palaeoclimatology Palaeoecology. 199:129-140.   10.1016/s0031-0182(03)00500-5   AbstractWebsite

Anoxic or nearly anoxic conditions ( < 4 muM O(2)) have long been associated with the absence of bioturbation and animal traces. This premise has guided interpretation of paleoceanographic conditions from rocks and sediments. We recently observed a high-density, living assemblage of highly mobile, symbiont-bearing, burrowing, phallodrilinid oligochaetes within a nearly anoxic basin ( <1 muM O(2) [0.02-0.03 ml l(-1)]) on the Peru margin (305 m). These observations were made during the most intense part of the 1997-98 El Ni (n) over tildeo when there may have been slight oxygenation of an otherwise anoxic basin, but oligochaete presence prior to this event is likely. The occurrence of symbiont-bearing gutless oligochaetes mainly within the upper 5 cm of the sediment column coincided with a bioturbated zone overlying distinctly laminated sediments. Our observations redefine the lower oxygen limit of macrofaunal bioturbation to much less than2 muM, and indicate a need to modify currently accepted ideas about the relationship between bioturbation and paleo-oxygen concentration. These results also address an ongoing debate about the lifestyles of bioturbating organisms in oxygen-poor settings. (C) 2003 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.

Levin, LA.  2003.  Oxygen minimum zone benthos: Adaptation and community response to hypoxia. Oceanography and Marine Biology, Vol 41. 41:1-45. AbstractWebsite

Mid-water oxygen minima (<0.5ml 1(-1) dissolved O-2) intercept the continental margins along much of the eastern Pacific Ocean, off west Africa and in the Arabian Sea and Bay of Bengal, creating extensive stretches of sea floor exposed to permanent, severe oxygen depletion. These seafloor oxygen minimum zones (OMZs) typically occur at bathyal depths between 200m and 1000m, and are major sites of carbon burial along the continental margins. Despite extreme oxygen depletion, protozoan and metazoan assemblages thrive in these environments. Metazoan adaptations include small, thin bodies, enhanced respiratory surface area, blood pigments such as haemoglobin, biogenic structure formation for stability in soupy sediments, an increased number of pyruvate oxidoreductases, and the presence of sulphide-oxidising symbionts. The organic-rich sediments of these regions often support mats of large sulphide-oxidising bacteria (Thioploca, Beggiatoa, Thiomargarita), and high-density, low-diversity metazoan assemblages. Densities of protistan and metazoan meiofauna are typically elevated in OMZs, probably due to high tolerance of hypoxia, an abundant food supply, and release from predation. Macrofauna and megafauna often exhibit dense aggregations at OMZ edges, but depressed densities and low diversity in the OMZ core, where oxygen concentration is lowest. Taxa most tolerant of severe oxygen depletion (<0.2mll(-1)) in seafloor OMZs include calcareous foraminiferans, nematodes, and annelids. Agglutinated protozoans, harpacticoid copepods, and calcified invertebrates are typically less tolerant. High dominance and relatively low species richness are exhibited by foraminiferans, metazoan meiofauna, and macrofauna within OMZs. At dissolved oxygen concentrations below 0.15 ml l(-1), bioturbation is reduced, the mixed layer is shallow, and chemosynthesis-based nutrition (via heterotrophy and symbiosis) becomes important. OMZs represent a major oceanographic boundary for many species. As they expand and contract over geological time, OMZs may influence genetic diversity and play a key role in the evolution of species at bathyal depths. These ecosystems may preview the types of adaptations, species, and processes that will prevail with increasing hypoxia over ecological and evolutionary time. However, many questions remain unanswered concerning controls on faunal standing stocks in OMZs, and the physiological, enzymatic, metabolic, reproductive and molecular adaptations that permit benthic animals to live in OMZs. As global warming and eutrophication reduce oxygenation of the world ocean, there is a pressing need to understand the functional consequences of oxygen depletion in marine ecosystems.

2002
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.

2001
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.

2000
Rathburn, AE, Levin LA, Held Z, Lohmann KC.  2000.  Benthic foraminifera associated with cold methane seeps on the northern California margin: Ecology and stable isotopic composition. Marine Micropaleontology. 38:247-266.   10.1016/s0377-8398(00)00005-0   AbstractWebsite

Release of methane from large marine reservoirs has been linked to climate change, as a causal mechanism and a consequence of temperature changes, during the Quaternary and the Paleocene. These inferred linkages are based primarily on variations in benthic foraminiferal stable isotope signatures. Few modem analog data exist, however, to assess the influence of methane flux on the geochemistry or faunal characteristics of benthic foraminiferal assemblages. Here we present analyses of the ecology and stable isotopic compositions of living (Rose Bengal stained) and dead (fossil) foraminifera (>150 mu m) from cold methane seeps on the slope off of the Eel River, northern California (500-525 m), and discuss potential applications for reconstructions of methane release in the past and present. Calcareous foraminiferal assemblages associated with Calyptogena clam bed seeps were comprised of species that are also found in organic-rich environments. Cosmopolitan, paleoceanographically important taxa were abundant; these included Uvigerina, Bolivina, Chilostomella, Globobulimina, and Nonionella. We speculate that seep foraminifera are attracted to the availability of food at cold seeps, and require no adaptations beyond those needed for life in organic-rich, reducing environments. Oxygen isotopic values of the tests of living foraminiferal assemblages from seeps had a high range (up to 0.69 parts per thousand) as did carbon isotopic values (up to 1.02 parts per thousand). Many living foraminiferal isotope values were within the range exhibited by the same or similar species in non-seep environments. Carbon isotopic values of fossil foraminifera found deeper in the sediments (18-20 cm), however, were 4.10 parts per thousand (U. peregrina) and 3.60 parts per thousand (B. subargentea) more negative than living delta(13)C values. These results suggest that delta(13)C values of foraminiferal tests reflect methane seepage and species-specific differences in isotopic composition, and can indicate temporal variations in seep activity. A better understanding of foraminiferal ecology and stable isotopic composition will enhance paleo-seep recognition, and improve interpretations of climatic and paleoceanographic change. (C) 2000 Elsevier Science B.V. All rights reserved.

Gooday, AJ, Bernhard JM, Levin LA, Suhr SB.  2000.  Foraminifera in the Arabian Sea oxygen minimum zone and other oxygen-deficient settings: taxonomic composition, diversity, and relation to metazoan faunas. Deep-Sea Research Part Ii-Topical Studies in Oceanography. 47:25-54.   10.1016/s0967-0645(99)00099-5   AbstractWebsite

Previous work has shown that some foraminiferal species thrive in organically enriched, oxygen-depleted environments. Here, we compare 'live' (stained) faunas in multicorer samples (0-1 cm layer) obtained at two sites on the Oman margin, one located at 412m within the oxygen minimum zone (OMZ) (O(2) = 0.13 ml l(-1)), the other located at 3350 m, well below the main OMZ (O(2) similar to 3.00 ml l(-1)). While earlier studies have focused on the hard-shelled (predominantly calcareous) foraminifera, we consider complete stained assemblages, including poorly known, soft-shelled, monothalamous forms. Densities at the 412-m site were much higher (16,107 individuals.10 cm(-2) in the > 63-mu m fraction) than at the 3350-m site (625 indiv.10 cm(-2)). Species richness (E(S(100))), diversity (H', Fishers Alpha index) and evenness (J') were much lower, and dominance (R1D) was higher, at 412 m compared with 3350 m. At 412 m, small calcareous foraminifera predominated and soft-shelled allogromiids and sacamminids were a minor faunal element. At 3350 m, calcareous individuals were much less common and allogromiids and saccamminids formed a substantial component of the fauna. There were also strong contrasts between the foraminiferal macrofauna( > 300-mu m fraction) at these two sites; relatively small species of Bathysiphon, Globobulimina and Lagenammina dominated at 412 m, very large, tubular, agglutinated species of Bathysiphon, Hyperammina, Rhabdammina and Saccorhiza were important at 3350 m. Our observations suggest that, because they contain fewer soft-shelled and agglutinated foraminifera, a smaller proportion of bathyal, low-oxygen faunas is lost during fossilization compared to faunas from well-oxygenated environments. Trends among foraminifera (> 63 mu m fraction) in the Santa Barbara Basin (590 and 610m depth; O(2) = 0.05 and 0.15 ml(-1) respectively), and macrofaunal foraminifera(> 300 mu m) on the Peru margin (300-1250 m depth: O(2) = 0.02-1.60 mi l(-1)), matched those observed on the Oman margin. Tn particular, soft-shelled monothalamous taxa were rare and large agglutinated taxa were absent in the most oxygen-depleted ( < 0.20 mi l(-1)) stations. Foraminifera often outnumber metazoans (both meiofaunal and macrofaunal) in bathyal oxygen-depleted settings. However, although phylogenetically distant, foraminifera and metazoans exhibit similar population responses to oxygen depletion; species diversity decreases, dominance increases, and the relative abundance of the major taxa changes. The foraminiferal macrofauna ( > 300 mu m) were 5 times more abundant than the metazoan macrofauna at 412 m on the Oman margin but 16 times more abundant at the 3350 m site. Among the meiofauna (63-300 mu m), the trend was reversed, foraminifera were 17 times more abundant than metazoan taxa at 412 m but only 1.4 times more abundant at 3350 In. An abundance of food combined with oxygen levels which are not depressed sufficiently to eliminate the more tolerant taxa, probably explains why foraminifera and macrofaunal metazoans flourished at the 412-m site, perhaps to the detriment of the metazoan meiofauna. (C) 1999 Elsevier Science Ltd. All rights reserved.