MEPS 289:43-52 (2005)  -  doi:10.3354/meps289043

Origin, composition and nutritional quality of particulate matter at deep-sea hydrothermal vents on Axial Volcano, NE Pacific

Christian Levesque1,2,3,*, Helene Limén1, S. Kim Juniper1,2

1Centre de recherche en géochimie et en géodynamique (GEOTOP) & 2Département des sciences biologiques, Université du Québec à Montréal, CP 8888, Succursale Centre-Ville, Montréal, Québec H3C 3P8, Canada
3Present address: Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute, 7700 Sandholdt Road, Moss Landing, California 95039, USA

ABSTRACT: Deep-sea hydrothermal vent communities are supported by local microbial chemolithoautotrophic production. While nutritional symbiotic associations between microbial primary producers and their metazoan hosts are well characterised, food sources used by the diverse and abundant non symbiont-containing vent species remain poorly known. Vent suspension- and deposit-feeders are usually considered as primary consumers directly relying on free-living microbial primary production, but other sources of particulate organic matter (POM) may also be part of their diet. We investigated the origin, composition and nutritional quality of POM at Axial Volcano (NE Pacific) vents, using microscopic observations, stable isotopic and biochemical analyses. A positive correlation between the stable carbon isotopic composition of POM and that of vent fluid dissolved inorganic carbon (DIC) indicates that the bulk of vent particulate organic carbon is derived from the local chemolithoautotrophic fixation of vent DIC. Low estimates of bacterial and total microbial carbon might reflect a rapid turnover of free-living bacterial biomass in the vent ecosystem. The low microbial fraction, together with the presence of abundant debris, point to the existence of a large detrital fraction in the POM pool. This implies that the previously largely overlooked detrital compartment may be a significant part of the diet of consumers, and that organic matter recycling may be a major process in these ecosystems.

KEY WORDS: Hydrothermal vents · Axial Volcano · Particulate organic matter · Detritus · Nutritional quality · Consumers · Food web

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