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Marine Ecology Progress Series

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MEPS 515:133-149 (2014)  -  DOI:

Seven-year enrichment: macrofaunal succession in deep-sea sediments around a 30 tonne whale fall in the Northeast Pacific

Craig R. Smith1,*, Angelo F. Bernardino2, Amy Baco3, Angelos Hannides1, Iris Altamira1

1Department of Oceanography, University of Hawaii at Manoa, 1000 Pope Road, Honolulu, Hawaii 96822, USA
2Departamento de Oceanografia, CCHN, Universidade Federal do Espírito Santo, Vitória, ES, 29055-460, Brazil
3EOAS/Oceanography, Florida State University, 117 N Woodward Ave, Tallahassee, Florida 32306-4320, USA
*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: Whale falls cause massive organic and sulfide enrichment of underlying sediments, yielding energy-rich conditions in oligotrophic deep-sea ecosystems. While the fauna colonizing whale skeletons has received substantial study, sediment macrofaunal community response to the geochemical impacts of deep-sea whale falls remains poorly evaluated. We present a 7 yr case study of geochemical impacts, macrofaunal community succession, and chemoautotrophic community persistence in sediments around a 30 t gray-whale carcass implanted at 1675 m in the well-oxygenated Santa Cruz Basin on the California margin. The whale fall yielded intense, patchy organic-carbon enrichment (>15% organic carbon) and pore-water sulfide enhancement (>5 mM) in nearby sediments for 6 to 7 yr, supporting a dense assemblage of enrichment opportunists and chemosymbiotic vesicomyid clams. Faunal succession in the whale-fall sediments resembled the scavenger-opportunist-sulfophile sequence previously described for epifaunal communities on sunken whale skeletons. The intense response of enrichment opportunists functionally resembles responses to organic loading in shallow-water ecosystems, such as at sewer outfalls and fish farms. Of 100 macrofaunal species in the whale-fall sediments, 10 abundant species were unique to whale falls; 6 species were shared with cold seeps, 5 with hydrothermal vents, and 12 with nearby kelp and wood falls. Thus, whale-fall sediments may provide dispersal stepping stones for some generalized reducing-habitat species but also support distinct macrofaunal assemblages and contribute significantly to beta diversity in deep-sea ecosystems.

KEY WORDS: Whale fall · Succession · Organic enrichment · Sulfide · Deep sea · Diversity · Chemoautrophy · Disturbance

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Cite this article as: Smith CR, Bernardino AF, Baco A, Hannides A, Altamira I (2014) Seven-year enrichment: macrofaunal succession in deep-sea sediments around a 30 tonne whale fall in the Northeast Pacific. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 515:133-149.

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