AME 33:279-288 (2003)  -  doi:10.3354/ame033279

Fate of organic carbon released from decomposing copepod fecal pellets in relation to bacterial production and ectoenzymatic activity

Peter Thor1,3,*, Hans G. Dam2, Daniel R. Rogers2

1Department of Life Sciences and Chemistry, Roskilde University, Universitetsvej 1, 4000 Roskilde, Denmark
2University of Connecticut, Department of Marine Sciences, 1080 Shennecossett Road, Groton, Connecticut 06340, USA
3Present address: Kristineberg Marine Research Station, 45034 Fiskebäckskil, Sweden

ABSTRACT: Fecal pellets were produced by Acartia tonsa fed 14C-labeled diatom, cryptophyte, and dinoflagellate diets, and were incubated in 1.2 μm-filtered Long Island Sound seawater. Based on the 14C label, the decrease in fpOC (fecal pellet organic carbon), the release and fate of dissolved organic carbon (DOC) and particulate organic carbon (POC), as well as bacterial production and enzymatic activity, were followed over a 96 h period. fpOC decreased by 9, 14, and 19% d-1 in diatom, cryptophyte, and dinoflagellate pellets, respectively. There was a fast, possibly passive, leakage of DOC from pellets from all 3 diets within a few hours after egestion, which may not have been utilized by attached bacteria. Bacterial production rates were 17, 12, and 31 pgC pellet-1 h-1, on diatom, cryptophyte, and dinoflagellate pellets, respectively. These were 5 orders of magnitude higher than production rates of free-living bacteria, indicating that copepod fecal pellets are hot spots of pelagic microbial production. The high production was caused primarily by high initial bacterial abundances. Accordingly, production and growth were entirely uncoupled in diatom pellets. There were no increases in abundance of attached bacteria on any of the 3 diets, indicating that the produced bacterial cells were released from the fecal pellets. Attached bacteria had a higher ectoenzymatic activity than free-living bacteria, but their production and ectoenzymatic activity were uncoupled and they only assimilated a minor fraction of the released DOC. DOC was therefore released favoring free-living microbes. The chitinase activity, which increased several-fold, was coupled to the production of attached bacteria; thus, chitin may play an important role in bacterial production on copepod fecal pellets.

KEY WORDS: Copepod fecal pellets · Fecal pellet decomposition · Pelagic DOC flux · Pelagic POC flux · Attached bacterial production · Ectoenzymatic activity

Full text in pdf format