MEPS 337:27-37 (2007)  -  doi:10.3354/meps337027

Sediments hosting gas hydrate: oases for metazoan meiofauna

Stefan Sommer*, Erik Gutzmann, Olaf Pfannkuche

Leibniz-Institut für Meereswissenschaften, IFM-GEOMAR, Wischhofstraße 1–3, 24148 Kiel, Germany

ABSTRACT: The effect of methane seepage from sediments harbouring shallow gas hydrates on standing stocks and the distribution pattern of meiobenthic organisms, in particular Nematoda and Rotifera, was studied at about 800 m water depth at Hydrate Ridge, Cascadia subduction zone, off Oregon. The presence of shallow gas hydrates, buried only a few 10s of centimetres below the sediment surface, was indicated by extensive bacterial mats of chemosynthetic Beggiatoa sp. and clam fields of the bivalve mollusk Calyptogena spp. Mean abundances of meiobenthic organisms integrated over the upper 10 cm of the sediment were highest (1294 ind. 10 cm–2) at clam fields, closely followed by control sediments least affected by gas hydrates (1199 ind. 10 cm–2) and lowest in sediments covered with bacterial mats (762 ind. 10 cm–2). Average meiobenthic biomass was highest at the clam field site (262.2 µg C 10 cm–2), 210.4 µg C 10 cm–2 at the control site and very low in sediments covered with bacterial mats (61.4 µg C 10 cm–2). The dominant taxa of meiobenthic organisms at the investigated sites were nematodes and, unexpectedly, Rotifera that are almost unknown from the deep marine habitat. In terms of abundance, rotifera dominated the meiobenthic community in gas-hydrate-influenced sediments, while control sediments and deeper basins adjoined to Hydrate Ridge were dominated by nematodes. Nematodes were concentrated in the sediment surface at all sites, whereas rotifers were almost evenly distributed at all depths, with a slight preference for deeper sediment horizons. The horizontal as well as vertical distribution of nematodes and rotifers is likely to be determined by competition or predation, and by the high adaptive capability of rotifers to highly sulphidic and anoxic conditions. Estimates of meiobenthic carbon turnover in relation to the bulk organic carbon supply indicate that, in contrast to other meiobenthic communities in cold seep environments, the meiobenthos in the studied gas-hydrate-containing sediments do not benefit from the excess availability of organic carbon via the chemoautotrophic food web. This may be because, for most meiobenthic organisms (other than rotifers), tolerance mechanisms are overwhelmed by the deleterious environmental conditions of reduced oxygen availability and extremely high sulphide fluxes.

KEY WORDS: Meiofauna · Nematoda · Rotifera · Gas hydrate · Carbon turnover · Hydrate Ridge · Cascadia subduction zone

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