MEPS 246:173-182 (2003)  -  doi:10.3354/meps246173

Food resource partitioning and competition among alvinellid polychaetes of Juan de Fuca Ridge hydrothermal vents

Christian Levesque1,*, S. Kim Juniper1, Jean Marcus2

1Centre GÉOTOP-UQAM-McGill and Département des sciences biologiques, Université du Québec à Montréal, Case Postale 8888, succursale Centre-Ville, Montréal, Québec H3C 3P8, Canada
2Department of Biology, University of Victoria, PO Box 3020, Stn CSC, Victoria, British Columbia V8W 3N5, Canada

ABSTRACT: Biotic communities in highly variable, frequently perturbed habitats are usually expected to be structured mainly by abiotic factors. In the highly variable deep-sea hydrothermal vent environment, physical and chemical factors are known to play an important role in limiting the distribution and abundance of species, but the importance of biotic interactions remains largely unresolved. The high density and biomass attained by the vent macrofauna suggest that resource partitioning and competition may be significant in these communities. This study of food resource utilisation at northeast Pacific deep-sea hydrothermal vents uses an approach based on stable carbon and nitrogen isotope analyses to characterise trophic interactions between the 3 dominant alvinellid polychaetes, Paralvinella palmiformis, P. sulfincola, and P. pandorae. We also examine size structure in sympatric and allopatric populations of P. palmiformis and P. pandorae. Results indicate that food resource partitioning occurs both intra- and interspecifically in P. palmiformis and P. sulfincola, and we advocate that this process contributes to explaining their co-existence at very high densities. In contrast, P. pandorae has a much more restricted trophic niche, overlaps P. palmiformis in diet and is much smaller in size when found in sympatry with P. palmiformis. P. pandorae is the most likely of the 3 species to be affected by intra- and/or interspecific competition for food, and this may explain the drastic change in the population size structure observed between successive years. Our work indicates that within the limits imposed by environmental conditions, biotic interactions such as food resource partitioning and competition can be significant factors structuring deep-sea hydrothermal vent communities.

KEY WORDS: Food partitioning · Competition · Hydrothermal vents · Variable habitats · Alvinellid polychaetes · Stable isotopes

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