MEPS 220:25-32 (2001)  -  doi:10.3354/meps220025

Bioavailability of organic matter in the sediments of the Porcupine Abyssal Plain, northeastern Atlantic

R. Danovaro1,2,*, A. Dell¹Anno1,2, M. Fabiano3

1Department of Zoology, University of Bari, Via Orabona 4, 70125 Bari, Italy
2Institute of Marine Science, University of Ancona, Via Brecce Bianche, 60131 Ancona, Italy
3Department for the Study of the Territory and its Resources, University of Genoa, Corso Europa 26, 16132 Genova, Italy

ABSTRACT: We investigated spatial and temporal changes in quantity, quality and bioavailability of organic matter in abyssal sediments of the northeastern Atlantic. Sediment samples were collected in the Porcupine Abyssal Plain (PAP, 4800 m depth) during 6 oceanographic cruises from September 1996 to October 1998 down to a depth of 15 cm. Sedimentary proteins, carbohydrates and lipids, and their enzymatically hydrolysable fractions showed significant temporal changes, but different biochemical classes displayed different temporal patterns. Total proteins, carbohydrates and lipids displayed high concentrations, whereas the potentially hydrolysable fractions accounted for only about 10% of their total pools. From September 1996 to October 1998, bioavailable organic carbon concentration in the sediments decreased about 10 gC m-2 indicating that this benthic system was not steady state. Hydrolysed proteins and carbohydrates were characterised by different vertical patterns. Carbohydrates increased their relative significance with depth in the sediment indicating a shift of organic matter bioavailability with important trophodynamic implications for subsurface consumers. Vertical profiles of Œreactive¹ and refractory organic carbon in PAP sediments indicate that organic matter bioavailability in deeper sediment layers is higher than expected from previous theoretical models.

KEY WORDS: Deep-sea sediments · Organic matter · Bioavailability

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