Temporal variability in phytodetritus and megabenthic activity at the seabed in the deep northeast Atlantic

Bett, B.J. ORCID:; Malzone, M.G.; Narayanaswamy, B.E.; Wigham, B.D.. 2001 Temporal variability in phytodetritus and megabenthic activity at the seabed in the deep northeast Atlantic. Progress in Oceanography, 50 (1/4). 349-368.

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We report a ten-year study of the abundance and activity of megabenthos on the Porcupine Abyssal Plain, northeast Atlantic, together with observations on the occurrence of phytodetritus at the deep-sea floor (4850 m). Using the Southampton Oceanography Centre time-lapse camera system, ‘Bathysnap’, we have recorded a radical change in the abundance and activity of megabenthos between the two periods of study (1991–1994 and 1997–2000). In 1991–1994, the larger megabenthos occurred at an abundance of c. 71.6/ha and were dominated by large holothurians. In addition, there were very substantial populations of smaller megabenthic ophiuroids (c. 4979/ha). Together, the total megabenthos are estimated to track over some 17 cm2/m2/d (exploiting 100% of the surface of the seabed in c. 2.5 years). In 1997–2000, the larger megabenthos increased to an abundance of c. 204/ha and were joined by exceptional numbers of a small holothurian species (Amperima rosea, 6457/ha) and ophiuroids (principally Ophiocten hastatum, 53,539/ha). The total megabenthos population was tracking at an estimnated rate of c. 247 cm2/m2/d (exploiting 100% of seabed in just 6 weeks). Coincident with these increases in the abundance and activity of the megabenthos, there were apparently no mass depositions of aggregated phytodetritus to the seabed in the summers of 1997–1999. Mass occurrences of phytodetritus had been noted during the summer months of the three years previously studied (1991, 1993 and 1994), with covering between 50 and 96% of the sediment surface. There is a statistically significant (p<0.02) negative correlation between maximum extent of this seabed cover of phytodetritus and seabed tracking by megabenthos. Additional studies [Lampitt et al., Progr. Ocean. 50 (2001)], indicate that there were no substantial changes in surface ocean primary productivity, in export flux, or in the composition of the flux that might otherwise account for the apparent absence of observable concentrations of phytodetritus during the summers of 1997–1999. We postulate that the marked increase in megabenthic tracking activity resulted in the removal (via consumption, disaggregation, burial etc.) of the bulk of the incoming phytodetrital flux during these years. A simple conceptual model, based on the apparent phytodetrital fluxes observed in 1991 and 1993, suggests that the megabenthos tracking rates estimated for 1997–1999 are sufficient to account for near-total removal of this flux. However, we are not able to estimate other processes removing phytodetritus (i.e. other elements of the benthos) that may also have increased between 1991–1994 and 1997–1999. Other independent studies [e.g. Ginger et al., Progr. Ocean. 50 (2001)] of flux constituents support the possibility that just a few species of megabenthos (e.g. A. rosea, and O. hastatum) could well have consumed a major proportion of the incoming flux and so substantially modified the composition of the organic matter available to other components of the benthos.

Item Type: Publication - Article
Digital Object Identifier (DOI):
ISSN: 0079-6611
Date made live: 24 Aug 2004 +0 (UTC)

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