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Marine Ecology Progress Series

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MEPS 498:133-145 (2014)  -  DOI: https://doi.org/10.3354/meps10598

Spatial patterns of tissue stable isotope contents give insight into the nutritional sources for seep communities on the Gulf of Mexico lower slope

Erin L. Becker1,*, Erik E. Cordes2, Stephen A. Macko3, Raymond W. Lee4, Charles R. Fisher1

1Department of Biology, Pennsylvania State University, 208 Mueller Laboratory, University Park, Pennsylvania 16802, USA
2Biology Department, Temple University, BL248J, 1900 N. 12th St., Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA
3Department of Environmental Sciences, University of Virginia, Clark Hall, Charlottesville, Virginia 22903, USA
4School of Biological Sciences, Washington State University, PO Box 644236, Pullman, Washington 99164-4236, USA
*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: In this study, we present the first thorough trophic characterization of cold seep macrofaunal communities on the Gulf of Mexico lower continental slope (>1000 m depth). We analyzed tissue δ13C, δ15N, and δsup>34S of vestimentiferan tubeworms, bathymodiolin mussels, vesicomyid clams, and their associated macrofaunal communities from discrete collections made across the entire lower slope. Over half of macrofauna associated with mussels and about half associated with vestimentiferans had δ13C values below -45‰. We also observed high spatial variability in the δ13C values of entire local communities, and the δ13C of associated fauna were significantly correlated with the δ13C compositions of the symbiotic species from the same location. These data indicate widespread incorporation of methane-derived carbon in mussel and vestimentiferan communities. This finding was particularly surprising in communities associated with older vestimentiferans, given the low rates of seepage observed in similar communities on the upper slope. On average, δ15N values in mussels and their associates were significantly more depleted and more variable than vestimentiferans, clams, and their associates, and there was a significant linear relationship between tissue δ15N values of mussels and their associated communities. The tissue δ34S values in macrofauna associated with vestimentiferans were more variable and significantly more depleted than mussel associates (δ34S = -16.8 to +19.1‰ for vestimentiferan associates and δ34S = -3.1 to +20.8‰ for mussel associates), consistent with higher isotopic fractionation during sulfate reduction in vestimentiferan habitats and a potentially higher nutritional contribution of sulfide-derived organic sulfur in vestimentiferan communities.


KEY WORDS: Hydrocarbon seep · Biogenic methane · Sulfide · Vestimentiferan · Bathymodiolin · Vesicomyid · Chemoautotrophy · Methanotrophy


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Cite this article as: Becker EL, Cordes EE, Macko SA, Lee RW, Fisher CR (2014) Spatial patterns of tissue stable isotope contents give insight into the nutritional sources for seep communities on the Gulf of Mexico lower slope. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 498:133-145. https://doi.org/10.3354/meps10598

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