MEPS 292:51-60 (2005)  -  doi:10.3354/meps292051

Nutritional associations among fauna at hydrocarbon seep communities in the Gulf of Mexico

Stephen E. MacAvoy1,2,* Charles R. Fisher3, Robert S. Carney4, Stephen A. Macko2

1Biology Department, American University, Washington, DC 20016, USA
2Department of Environmental Sciences, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, Virginia 22903, USA
3Biology Department, Pennsylvania State University, University Park, Pennsylvania 16802, USA
4Coastal Studies Institute, Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, Louisiana 70803, USA

ABSTRACT: The Gulf of Mexico supports dense aggregations of megafauna associated with hydrocarbon seeps on the Louisiana Slope. The visually dominant megafauna at the seeps—mussels and tube worms—derive their nutrition from symbiotic relationships with sulfide or methane-oxidizing bacteria. The structure of the tube worm aggregations provide biogenic habitat for numerous species of heterotrophic animals. Carbon, nitrogen and sulfur stable isotope analyses of heterotrophic fauna collected with tube worm aggregations in the Green Canyon Lease area (GC 185) indicate that most of these species derive the bulk of their nutrition from chemoautolithotrophic sources. The isotope analyses also indicate that although 2 species may be deriving significant nutritional input from the bivalves, none of the species analyzed were feeding directly on the tube worms. Grazing gastropods and deposit-feeding sipunculids were used to estimate the isotopic value of the free-living chemoautolithotrophic bacteria associated with the tube worms (δ13C –32 to –20‰; δ15N 0 to 7‰; δ34S –14 to –1‰). The use of tissue δ34S analyses in conjunction with tissue δ13C and δ15N led to several insights into the trophic biology of the communities that would not have been evident from tissue stable C and N analyses alone.

KEY WORDS: Hydrocarbon seeps · Chemosynthesis · Sulfur isotopes

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