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

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

Levin, LA, Le Bris N.  2015.  The deep ocean under climate change. Science. 350:766-768.   10.1126/science.aad0126   AbstractWebsite

The deep ocean absorbs vast amounts of heat and carbon dioxide, providing a critical buffer to climate change but exposing vulnerable ecosystems to combined stresses of warming, ocean acidification, deoxygenation, and altered food inputs. Resulting changes may threaten biodiversity and compromise key ocean services that maintain a healthy planet and human livelihoods. There exist large gaps in understanding of the physical and ecological feedbacks that will occur. Explicit recognition of deep-ocean climate mitigation and inclusion in adaptation planning by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) could help to expand deep-ocean research and observation and to protect the integrity and functions of deep-ocean ecosystems.

Nordstrom, MC, Demopoulos AWJ, Whitcraft CR, Rismondo A, McMillan P, Gonzalez JP, Levin LA.  2015.  Food web heterogeneity and succession in created saltmarshes. Journal of Applied Ecology. 52:1343-1354.   10.1111/1365-2664.12473   AbstractWebsite

Ecological restoration must achieve functional as well as structural recovery. Functional metrics for re-establishment of trophic interactions can be used to complement traditional monitoring of structural attributes. In addition, topographic effects on food web structure provide added information within a restoration context; often, created sites may require spatial heterogeneity to effectively match structure and function of natural habitats. We addressed both of these issues in our study of successional development of benthic food web structure, with focus on bottom-up-driven changes in macroinvertebrate consumer assemblages in the saltmarshes of the Venice Lagoon, Italy. We combined quantified estimates of the changing community composition with stable isotope data (C-13:C-12 and N-15:N-14) to compare the general trophic structure between created (2-14years) marshes and reference sites and along topographic elevation gradients within saltmarshes. Macrofaunal invertebrate consumers exhibited local, habitat-specific trophic patterns. Stable isotope-based trophic structure changed with increasing marsh age, in particular with regard to mid-elevation (Salicornia) habitats. In young marshes, the mid-elevation consumer signatures resembled those of unvegetated ponds. The mid-elevation of older and natural marshes had a more distinct Salicornia zone food web, occasionally resembling that of the highest (Sarcocornia-dominated) elevation. In summary, this indicates that primary producers and availability of vascular plant detritus structure consumer trophic interactions and the flow of carbon. Functionally different consumers, subsurface-feeding detritivores (Oligochaeta) and surface grazers (Hydrobia sp.), showed distinct but converging trajectories of isotopic change over time, indicating that successional development may be asymmetric between brown' (detrital) guilds and green' (grazing) guilds in the food web.Synthesis and applications. Created marsh food webs converged into a natural state over about a decade, with successional shifts seen in both consumer community composition and stable isotope space. Strong spatial effects were noted, highlighting the utility of stable isotopes to evaluate functional equivalence in spatially heterogeneous systems. Understanding the recovery of functional properties such as food web support, and their inherent spatial variability, is key to planning and managing successful habitat restoration. Created marsh food webs converged into a natural state over about a decade, with successional shifts seen in both consumer community composition and stable isotope space. Strong spatial effects were noted, highlighting the utility of stable isotopes to evaluate functional equivalence in spatially heterogeneous systems. Understanding the recovery of functional properties such as food web support, and their inherent spatial variability, is key to planning and managing successful habitat restoration.

Gallo, ND, Cameron J, Hardy K, Fryer P, Bartlett DH, Levin LA.  2015.  Submersible- and lander-observed community patterns in the Mariana and New Britain trenches: Influence of productivity and depth on epibenthic and scavenging communities. Deep-Sea Research Part I-Oceanographic Research Papers. 99:119-133.   10.1016/j.dsr.2014.12.012   AbstractWebsite

Deep-sea trenches remain one of the least explored ocean ecosystems due to the unique challenges of sampling at great depths. Five submersible dives conducted using the DEEPSEA CHALLENGER submersible generated video of undisturbed deep-sea communities at bathyal (994 m), abyssal (3755 m), and hadal (8228 m) depths in the New Britain Trench, bathyal depths near the Ulithi atoll (1192 m), and hadal depths in the Mariana Trench Challenger Deep (10908 m). The New Britain Trench is overlain by waters with higher net primary productivity (similar to 3-fold) than the Mariana Trench and nearby Ulithi, and receives substantially more allochthonous input from terrestrial sources, based on the presence of terrestrial debris in submersible video footage. Comparisons between trenches addressed how differences in productivity regime influence benthic and demersal deep-sea community structure. In addition, the scavenger community was studied using paired lander deployments to the New Britain (8233 m) and Mariana (10918 m) trenches. Differences in allochthonous input were reflected in epibenthic community abundance, biodiversity, and lifestyle representation. More productive locations were characterized by higher faunal abundances (similar to 2-fold) at both bathyal and hadal depths. In contrast, biodiversity trends showed a unimodal pattern with more food-rich areas exhibiting reduced bathyal diversity and elevated hadal diversity. Hadal scavenging communities exhibited similar higher abundance but also similar to 3-fold higher species richness in the more food-rich New Britain Trench compared to the Mariana Trench. High species- and phylum-level diversity observed in the New Britain Trench suggest that trench environments may foster higher megafaunal biodiversity than surrounding abyssal depths if food is not limiting. However, the absence of fish at our hadal sites suggests that certain groups do have physiological depth limits. Submersible video footage allowed novel in situ observation of holothurian orientation, jellyfish feeding behavior as well as lifestyle preferences for substrate, seafloor and overlying water. This study documents previously unreported species in the New Britain Trench, including an ulmariid scyphozoan (8233 m) and an acrocirrid polychaete (994 m), and reports the first observation of an abundant population of elpidiid holothurians in the Mariana Trench (10908 m). It also provides the first megafaunal community analysis of the world's deepest epibenthic community in the Mariana Trench Challenger Deep, which was composed of elpidiid holothurians, amphipods, and xenophyophores. (C) 2015 The Authors. Published by Elsevier Ltd.

Nordstrom, MC, Currin CA, Talley TS, Whitcraft CR, Levin LA.  2014.  Benthic food-web succession in a developing salt marsh. Marine Ecology Progress Series. 500:43-U69.   10.3354/meps10686   AbstractWebsite

Ecological succession has long been a focal point for research, and knowledge of underlying mechanisms is required if scientists and managers are to successfully promote recovery of ecosystem function following disturbance. We addressed the influence of bottom-up processes on successional assemblage shifts in salt marshes, ecosystems with strong physical gradients, and how these shifts were reflected in the trophic characteristics of benthic fauna. We tracked the temporal development of infaunal community structure and food-web interactions in a young, created salt marsh and an adjacent natural marsh in Mission Bay, California, USA (1996-2003). Macro faunal community succession in created Spartina foliosa habitats occurred rapidly, with infaunal densities reaching 70% of those in the natural marsh after 1 yr. Community composition shifted from initial dominance of insect larvae (surface-feeding microalgivores) to increased dominance of oligo chaetes (subsurface-feeding detritivores) within the first 7 yr. Isotopic labeling of microalgae, N-2-fixing cyanobacteria, S. foliosa and bacteria revealed direct links (or absence thereof) between these basal food sources and specific consumer groups. In combination with the compositional changes in the macroinvertebrate fauna, the trophic patterns indicated an increase in food-web complexity over time, reflecting resource-driven marsh succession. Natural abundance stable isotope ratios of salt marsh consumers (infaunal and epifaunal macroinvertebrates, and fish) initially reflected distinctions in trophic structure between the created and natural marsh, but these diminished during successional development. Our findings suggest that changing resource availability is one of the important drivers of succession in benthic communities of restored wetlands in Southern California.

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.

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.

Levin, LA, Mendoza GF, Gonzalez JP, Thurber AR, Cordes EE.  2010.  Diversity of bathyal macrofauna on the northeastern Pacific margin: the influence of methane seeps and oxygen minimum zones. Marine Ecology-an Evolutionary Perspective. 31:94-110.   10.1111/j.1439-0485.2009.00335.x   AbstractWebsite

The upper continental slope in the northeastern Pacific Ocean is intercepted by a deep oxygen minimum zone (OMZ; 650-1100 m) and punctuated by conduits of methane seepage. We examined the effects of these two dominant sources of heterogeneity on the density, composition and diversity of heterotrophic macrofauna off Hydrate Ridge, Oregon (OR; 800 m water depth), where the seeps co-occur within an OMZ, and off the Eel River, Northern California (CA; 500 m), where seeps are overlain by better oxygenated waters. We hypothesized that seeps (containing clam beds and microbial mats) should contribute a suite of distinct species to the regional margin species pool but that OMZ-associated hypoxia would dampen seep-related heterogeneity. Macrofaunal densities were highest (23,000-33,510 ind.m(-2)) in the CA seep sediments and in the OR near-seep samples, intermediate in the OR seep, CA near seep and CA and OR 500-m margin sediments (10,05419,777 ind.m(-2)), and lowest in the CA and OR OMZ habitats at 800 m (42697847 ind.m(-2)). Annelids constituted over 50% of the taxa in all but the CA clam bed and OR microbial mat sediments, where mollusks were abundant. Approximately 50% of seep species appeared to be habitat endemic; species present in microbial mats largely formed a subset of those present in the clam beds. Dorvilleid and ampharetid polychaetes were dominant in the seep sediments; non-seep margin sediments at 500 and 800 m were populated heavily by branckiate polychaetes including cossurids and paraonids. Alpha diversity (Es[20] calculated per core) was lowest and rank 1 dominance was highest in the CA and OR microbial mat habitats. Pooled analyses of Es[100] revealed highest species richness in the CA clam bed and near-seep habitats (30.3 and 29.6, respectively), and lowest species richness in the OR microbial mat and near-seep habitats (16.5 and 17.9, respectively). Non-seep sediments (500 and 800 m) off both CA and OR were more homogeneous (55-57% within-habitat similarity) than clam bed and microbial mat sediments (only 32-37% within-habitat similarity). CA sediment macrofauna generally exhibit higher alpha diversity, and as habitats are combined, a higher rate of increase in the slope of the species accumulation curves than do OR margin macrofauna. Methane seeps in the NE Pacific introduce significant heterogeneity that increases margin biodiversity at multiple spatial scales. However, our hypothesis that the OMZ would lessen the seep contributions to diversity was not supported. The better oxygenated CA seeps at 500 in shared more of the background margin fauna (at 500 m) than did the OR seeps at 800 m (with OMZ fauna at 800 in). Geographical differences in the fluxes of methane-rich fluids and the increased reliance on chemosynthetic food sources with increased depth could explain these results.

Gooday, AJ, Levin LA, da Silva AA, Bett BJ, Cowie GL, Dissard D, Gage JD, Hughes DJ, Jeffreys R, Lamont PA, Larkin KE, Murty SJ, Schumacher S, Whitcraft C, Woulds C.  2009.  Faunal responses to oxygen gradients on the Pakistan margin: A comparison of foraminiferans, macrofauna and megafauna. Deep-Sea Research Part Ii-Topical Studies in Oceanography. 56:488-502.   10.1016/j.dsr2.2008.10.003   AbstractWebsite

The Pakistan Margin is characterised by a strong mid-water oxygen minimum zone (OMZ) that intercepts the seabed at bathyal depths (150-1300 m). We investigated whether faunal abundance and diversity trends were similar among protists (foraminiferans and gromiids), metazoan macrofauna and megafauna along a transect (140-1850 m water depth) across the OMZ during the 2003 intermonsoon (March-May) and late/post-monsoon (August-October) seasons. All groups exhibited some drop in abundance in the OMZ core (250-500 m water depth; O(2): 0.10-0.13 mL L(-1) = 4.46-5.80 mu M) but to differing degrees. Densities of foraminiferans >63 mu m were slightly depressed at 300 m, peaked at 738 m, and were much lower at deeper stations. Foraminiferans >300 mu m were the overwhelmingly dominant macrofaunal organisms in the OMZ core. Macrofaunal metazoans reached maximum densities at 140 m depth, with additional peaks at 850, 940 and 1850 m where foraminiferans were less abundant. The polychaete Linopherus sp. was responsible for a macrofaunal biomass peak at 950 m. Apart from large swimming animals (fish and natant decapods), metazoan megafauna were absent between 300 and 900 m (O(2) <0.14-0.15 mLL(-1) = 6.25-6.69 mu M) but were represented by a huge, ophiuroid-dominated abundance peak at 1000 m (O(2) similar to 0.15-0.18 mLL(-1) = 6.69-8.03 mu M). Gromiid protists were confined largely to depths below 1150 m (O(2) > 0.2 mLL(-1) = 8.92 mu M). The progressively deeper abundance peaks for foraminiferans (> 63 mu m), Linopherus sp. and ophiuroids probably represent lower OMZ boundary edge effects and suggest a link between body size and tolerance of hypoxia. Macro- and megafaunal organisms collected between 800 and 1100 m were dominated by a succession of different taxa, indicating that the lower part of the OMZ is also a region of rapid faunal change. Species diversity was depressed in all groups in the OMZ core, but this was much more pronounced for macrofauna and megafauna than for foraminiferans. Oxygen levels strongly influenced the taxonomic composition of all faunal groups. Calcareous foraminiferans dominated the seasonally and permanently hypoxic sites (136-300 m); agglutinated foraminiferans were relatively more abundant at deeper stations where oxygen concentrations were >0.13 mLL(-1)( = 5.80 mu M). Polychaetes were the main macrofaunal taxon within the OMZ; calcareous macrofauna, and megafauna (molluscs and echinoderms) were rare or absent where oxygen levels were lowest. The rarity of larger animals between 300 and 700 m on the Pakistan Margin, compared with the abundant macrofauna in the OMZ core off Oman, is the most notable contrast between the two sides of the Arabian Sea. This difference probably reflects the slightly higher oxygen levels and better food quality on the western side. (C) 2008 Published by Elsevier Ltd.

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.

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.

Whitcraft, CR, Levin LA.  2007.  Regulation of benthic algal and animal communities by salt marsh plants: Impact of shading. Ecology. 88:904-917.   10.1890/05-2074   AbstractWebsite

Plant cover is a fundamental feature of many coastal marine and terrestrial systems and controls the structure of associated animal communities. Both natural and human-mediated changes in plant cover influence abiotic sediment properties and thus have cascading impacts on the biotic community. Using clipping ( structural) and light ( shading) manipulations in two salt marsh vegetation zones ( one dominated by Spartina foliosa and one by Salicornia virginica), we tested whether these plant species exert influence on abiotic environmental factors and examined the mechanisms by which these changes regulate the biotic community. In an unshaded ( plant and shade removal) treatment, marsh soils exhibited harsher physical properties, a microalgal community composition shift toward increased diatom dominance, and altered macrofaunal community composition with lower species richness, a larger proportion of insect larvae, and a smaller proportion of annelids, crustaceans, and oligochaetes compared to shaded ( plant removal, shade mimic) and control treatment plots. Overall, the shaded treatment plots were similar to the controls. Plant cover removal also resulted in parallel shifts in microalgal and macrofaunal isotopic signatures of the most dynamic species. This suggests that animal responses are seen mainly among microalgae grazers and may be mediated by plant modi. cation of microalgae. Results of these experiments demonstrate how light reduction by the vascular plant canopy can control salt marsh sediment communities in an arid climate. This research facilitates understanding of sequential consequences of changing salt marsh plant cover associated with climate or sea level change, habitat degradation, marsh restoration, or plant invasion.

Levin, LA, Neira C, Grosholz ED.  2006.  Invasive cordgrass modifies wetland trophic function. Ecology. 87:419-432.   10.1890/04-1752   AbstractWebsite

Vascular plants strongly control belowground environments in most ecosystems. Invasion by vascular plants in coastal wetlands, and by cordgrasses (Spartina spp.) in particular, are increasing in incidence globally, with dramatic ecosystem-level consequences. We examined the trophic consequences of' invasion by a Spartina hybrid (S. alterniflora X S. foliosa) in San Francisco Bay (USA) by documenting differences in biomass and trophic structure of benthic communities between sediments invaded by Spartina and uninvaded sediments. We found the invaded system shifted from all algae-bascd to a detritus-based food web. We then tested for a relationship between diet and tolerance to invasion, hypothesizing that species that consume Spartina detritus are more likely to inhabit invaded sediments than those that consume surface algae. Infaunal diets were initially examined with natural abundance stable isotope analyses and application of mixing models, but these yielded an ambiguous picture of food sources. Therefore, we conducted isotopic enrichment experiments by providing N-15-labeled Spartina detritus both on and below the sediment surface in areas that either contained Spartina or were unvegetated. Capitellid and nereid polychaetes, and oligochaetes, groups shown to persist following Spartina invasion of San Francisco Bay tidal flats, took up N-15 from labeled native and invasive Spartina detritus. In contrast, We found that amphipods, bivalves, and other taxa less tolerant to invasion consumed primarily surficial algae, based oil C-13 enrichment experiments. Habitat (Spartina vs. unvegetated patches) and location of' detritus (on or within sediments) did not affect N-15 uptake from cletritus. Our investigations support a "trophic shift" model for ecosystem response to wetland plant invasion and preview loss of key trophic support for fishes and migratory birds by shifting dominance to species not widely consumed by species at higher trophic levels.

Neira, C, Levin LA, Grosholz ED.  2005.  Benthic macrofaunal communities of three sites in San Francisco Bay invaded by hybrid Spartina, with comparison to uninvaded habitats. Marine Ecology-Progress Series. 292:111-126.   10.3354/meps292111   AbstractWebsite

A hybrid cordgrass, formed from a cross between Spartina alterniflora (Atlantic cordgrass) and S. foliosa (Pacific cordgrass), has recently spread within the intertidal zone of south San Francisco Bay. Sediment properties and macroinfaunal community structure were compared in patches invaded by Spartina hybrid and adjacent uninvaded patches at 3 sites in San Francisco Bay (2 tidal flats and 1 Salicornia marsh). We hypothesized that (1) sediments vegetated by Spartina hybrid would have reduced sediment grain size, higher organic matter content, lower redox potential, lower salinity and reduced microalgal biomass relative to adjacent unvegetated tidal flat sediments, and (2) that differences in the sediment environment would correspond to changes in the infaunal invertebrate community structure and feeding modes. We observed 75 % lower total macro-faunal density and lower species richness in Spartina-vegetated sediments at Elsie Roemer (30 yr old invasion) than in an adjacent unvegetated tidal flat. This was due to lower densities of surface-feeding amphipods, bivalves, cirratulid and spionid polychaetes. The proportional representation of subsurface-deposit feeders was greater in Spartina patches than in unvegetated sediments. At a more recently invaded site (Roberts Landing; 15 yr invasion), Spartina patches differed from tidal flat sediments in composition, but not in abundance. Native (Salicornia) and Spartina patches exhibited similar sediment properties at San Mateo, where the Spartina hybrid invaded 8 to 10 yr earlier. No differences were detected in densities or proportions of surface- or subsurface-deposit feeders, but the proportion of carnivores/omnivores and grazers increased in the hybrid-invaded patches. These studies suggest that the invasive Spartina hybrid in south San Francisco Bay can have differing effects on sediment ecosystems, possibly depending on the location, age, or type of habitats involved.

Helly, JJ, Levin LA.  2004.  Global distribution of naturally occurring marine hypoxia on continental margins. Deep-Sea Research Part I-Oceanographic Research Papers. 51:1159-1168.   10.1016/j.dsr.2004.03.009   AbstractWebsite

Hypoxia in the ocean influences biogeochemical cycling of elements, the distribution of marine species and the economic well being of many coastal countries. Previous delineations of hypoxic environments focus on those in enclosed seas where hypoxia may be exacerbated by anthropogenically induced eutrophication. Permanently hypoxic water masses in the open ocean, referred to as oxygen minimum zones, impinge on a much larger seafloor surface area along continental margins of the eastern Pacific, Indian and western Atlantic Oceans. We provide the first global quantification of naturally hypoxic continental margin floor by determining upper and lower oxygen minimum zone depth boundaries from hydrographic data and computing the area between the isobaths using seafloor topography. This approach reveals that there are over one million km(2) of permanently hypoxic shelf and bathyal sea floor, where dissolved oxygen is <0.5ml l(-1); over half (59%) occurs in the northern Indian Ocean. We also document strong variation in the intensity, vertical position and thickness of the OMZ as a function of latitude in the eastern Pacific Ocean and as a function of longitude in the northern Indian Ocean. Seafloor OMZs are regions of low biodiversity and are inhospitable to most commercially valuable marine resources, but support a fascinating array of protozoan and metazoan adaptations to hypoxic conditions. (C) 2004 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

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.