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Marine Ecology Progress Series

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MEPS 291:135-150 (2005)  -  doi:10.3354/meps291135

Organic matter pathways to zooplankton and benthos under pack ice in late winter and open water in late summer in the north-central Bering Sea

James R. Lovvorn1,*, Lee W. Cooper2, Marjorie L. Brooks1, Christopher C. De Ruyck1, Joseph K. Bump1,3, Jacqueline M. Grebmeier2

1Department of Zoology, University of Wyoming, Laramie, Wyoming 82071, USA
2Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of Tennessee, Knoxville, Tennessee 37996, USA
3Present address: School of Forest Resources and Environmental Science, Michigan Technological University, Houghton, Michigan 49931-1295, USA

ABSTRACT: On continental shelves in arctic and subarctic seas, much of the production from spring blooms at the retreating ice edge may sink to the bottom with little grazing by zooplankton, thereby supporting abundant benthic communities. The importance of this settled phytoplankton to macrobenthos throughout the year may partly determine effects of long-term changes in ice cover. We studied organic matter (OM) pathways to macrobenthos and macrozooplankton under ice cover in late winter (March–April) and open water in late summer (September) in the north-central Bering Sea. In late winter 2001, only a very small fraction of OM in the water column was particulate. C:N ratios, δ13C, and δ15N in suspended particulate organic matter (SPOM), and sediments indicated very little recent input of fresh ice algae or phytoplankton in ice-covered areas. For the 3 main deposit-feeding bivalves, δ13C and δ15N indicated similar diets among species, with minimal change in food quality between late summer and late winter, and between late winters with very different ice cover (1999 vs. 2001). In winter 2001, there were large increases in δ13C from SPOM to bulk sediments (+3.2‰) and from sediments to near-surface deposit-feeders (+1.6 to +3.0‰), but small differences in δ15N from SPOM to sediments (+1.2‰) and from sediments to deposit-feeders (–0.3 to +1.6‰). These values suggest that the diet of near-surface deposit-feeders during these non-bloom periods included substantial amounts of the cells or products of bacteria that had assimilated well-reworked carbon and isotopically light dissolved inorganic nitrogen (DIN). By late summer and through winter, 4 to 11 mo after the spring bloom, products of bacterial activity appeared to be an important route of OM into the benthic food web. Due to bacterial dependence on annual carbon inputs, and unique nutrient content of fresh phytoplankton for breeding invertebrates, ice-edge blooms might be an important determinant of annual variations in macrobenthic abundance.

KEY WORDS: Food webs · Organic matter sources · Sea ice · Spring bloom · Stable isotopes

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