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Marine Ecology Progress Series

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MEPS 382:1-21 (2009)  -  DOI:

Biogeochemistry of a deep-sea whale fall: sulfate reduction, sulfide efflux and methanogenesis

Tina Treude1,5,*, Craig R. Smith2, Frank Wenzhöfer1,3, Erin Carney1,6, Angelo F. Bernardino2,4, Angelos K. Hannides2,7, Martin Krüger1,8, Antje Boetius1,3

1Max Planck Institute for Marine Microbiology, Department of Biogeochemistry, Celsiusstrasse 1, 28359 Bremen, Germany
2University of Hawaii at Manoa, Department of Oceanography, 1000 Pope Road, Honolulu, Hawaii 96822, USA
3Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research, HGF MPG Research Group on Deep Sea Ecology and Technolgy,
27515 Bremerhaven, Germany
4Oceanographic Institute, University of São Paulo, Praça do Oceanográfico, 191, 05508-120 São Paulo, Brazil
5Present address: Leibniz Institute of Marine Sciences, IFM-GEOMAR, Wischhofstr. 1–3, 24148 Kiel, Germany
6Present address: New York Methodist Hospital, Department of Medicine, 506 6th Street, Brooklyn, New York 11215, USA
7Present address: Department of Fisheries and Marine Research, 101 Bethlehem Street, 1416 Nicosia, Cyprus
8Present address: Bundesanstalt für Geowissenschaften und Rohstoffe, Stilleweg 2, 30655 Hannover, Germany

ABSTRACT: Deep-sea whale falls create sulfidic habitats supporting chemoautotrophic communities, but microbial processes underlying the formation of such habitats remain poorly evaluated. Microbial degradation processes (sulfate reduction, methanogenesis) and biogeochemical gradients were studied in a whale-fall habitat created by a 30 t whale carcass deployed at 1675 m depth for 6 to 7 yr on the California margin. A variety of measurements were conducted including photomosaicking, microsensor measurements, radiotracer incubations and geochemical analyses. Sediments were studied at different distances (0 to 9 m) from the whale fall. Highest microbial activities and steepest vertical geochemical gradients were found within 0.5 m of the whale fall, revealing ex situ sulfate reduction and in vitro methanogenesis rates of up to 717 and 99 mmol m–2 d–1, respectively. In sediments containing whale biomass, methanogenesis was equivalent to 20 to 30% of sulfate reduction. During in vitro sediment studies, sulfide and methane were produced within days to weeks after addition of whale biomass, indicating that chemosynthesis is promoted at early stages of the whale fall. Total sulfide production from sediments within 0.5 m of the whale fall was 2.1 ± 3 and 1.5 ± 2.1 mol d–1 in Years 6 and 7, respectively, of which ~200 mmol d–1 were available as free sulfide. Sulfate reduction in bones was much lower, accounting for a total availability of ~10 mmol sulfide d–1. Over periods of at least 7 yr, whale falls can create sulfidic conditions similar to other chemosynthetic habitats such as cold seeps and hydrothermal vents.

KEY WORDS: Chemosynthesis · Organic carbon input · Microbial degradation · Sediment · Bone · Cold seep · Hydrothermal vent

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Cite this article as: Treude T, Smith CR, Wenzhöfer F, Carney E and others (2009) Biogeochemistry of a deep-sea whale fall: sulfate reduction, sulfide efflux and methanogenesis. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 382:1-21.

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