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Marine Ecology Progress Series

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MEPS 462:39-49 (2012)  -  DOI:

Degradation of copepod faecal pellets in the upper layer: role of microbial community and Calanus finmarchicus

Camilla Svensen*, Christian Wexels Riser, Marit Reigstad, Lena Seuthe

Faculty of Biosciences, Fisheries and Economics, University of Tromsø, 9037 Tromsø, Norway

ABSTRACT: Copepod faecal pellets (FP) are considered important contributors to vertical carbon flux, but investigations comparing FP production with FP export using sediment traps conclude that vertical export is not their only fate. FP are degraded to a large extent in the upper 60 m, and even among large, fast-sinking FP, only a fraction reaches sediment traps deeper than 200 m. Retention mechanisms for copepod FP are still not well understood. In order to investigate the relative importance of the small (<180 µm) compartment of the plankton community versus larger filter-feeding copepods for degradation of large, fast-sinking FP, we incubated FP produced by Calanus finmarchicus (Gunnerus) in 180 µm-filtered water from the chlorophyll a maximum. From a series of experiments, we found that the degradation of large FP is time-dependent, as no degradation was apparent after 20 or 48 h of incubation, but after 72 h FP volume was reduced by 32%. We also found that large filter-feeding copepods may facilitate the degradation process, since FP degradation increased from 0 to 75% after 48 h of incubation in the presence of 5 C. finmarchicus. We conclude that ciliates and dinoflagellates are able to degrade large copepod FP, but that this process is too slow to explain observed retention of large FP in the upper 200 m of the water column due to fast sinking of large particles. Rather than looking for single-factor explanations for flux-regulating processes, we stress the importance of investigating combined effects in relevant time frames to understand the complexity of carbon flux regulation in natural systems.

KEY WORDS: Faecal pellet · Faecal pellet retention · Microbial degradation · Faecal pellet fragmentation · Calanus finmarchicus · Carbon cycling

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Cite this article as: Svensen C, Wexels Riser C, Reigstad M, Seuthe L (2012) Degradation of copepod faecal pellets in the upper layer: role of microbial community and Calanus finmarchicus. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 462:39-49.

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