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Marine Ecology Progress Series

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MEPS 209:55-69 (2001)  -  doi:10.3354/meps209055

On the trophic fate of Phaeocystis pouchetii. VII. Sterols and fatty acids reveal sedimentation of P. pouchetii-derived organic matter via krill fecal strings

Christian Hamm1,*, Marit Reigstad2, Christian Wexels Riser2, Anneke Mühlebach1, Paul Wassmann2

1Alfred-Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research, Am Handelshafen 12, 27570 Bremerhaven, Germany
2Norwegian College of Fishery Science, University of Tromsø, Breivika, 9037 Tromsø, Norway

ABSTRACT: As part of a joint project on the fate of phytoplankton in Balsfjorden in Northern Norway, we investigated the trophic fate and sedimentation potential of Phaeocystis pouchetii by tracing the transition of biomarker patterns from a phytoplankton bloom to sediment traps and during a gut-passage experiment. The phytoplankton biomass during the spring bloom 1996 was dominated by colonial P. pouchetii (ca 85%) and 4 members of the diatom family Thalassiosiraceae (ca 10%). Particulate organic carbon in sediment traps largely consisted of fecal material from the Arctic krill Thysanoessa sp. Sterol and fatty acid biomarker patterns in the phytoplankton bloom could be reproduced by combining the individual biomarker patterns of the isolated phytoplankters P. pouchetii and Thalassiosira decipiens in a ratio of ca 75:25. In a laboratory experiment, Arctic krill (Thysanoessa raschii) fed with similar efficiency on P. pouchetii colonies and the Thalassiosiraceae. During gut passage, the abundance of Thalassiosiraceae biomarkers in fecal strings increased relative to P. pouchetii biomarkers, while biomarkers from krill became dominant. This transition of biomarker patterns due to gut passage in T. raschii closely resembled the biomarker transition from the surface bloom to material in sediment traps at 40 to 170 m depth, which was mainly composed of krill fecal strings. We conclude that krill grazed efficiently on P. pouchetii colonies in Balsfjorden and caused sedimentation of P. pouchetii-derived organic matter below the euphotic zone via fecal strings. Hence, both transfer to higher trophic levels and sedimentation of Phaeocystis spp.-derived organic matter can be more effective than is commonly believed.

KEY WORDS: Phaeocystis · Diatoms · Krill · Trophic fate · Vertical flux · Biomarkers

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