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Marine Ecology Progress Series

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Whale carcasses provide the deep sea with a mosaic of microhabitats that support faunal assemblages with different trophic structures and chemosynthesis reliance levels.
Photo: Yoshihiro Fujiwara

Alfaro-Lucas JM, Shimabukuro M, Ogata IV, Fujiwara Y, Sumida PYG


Trophic structure and chemosynthesis contributions to heterotrophic fauna inhabiting an abyssal whale carcass

Trophic ecology of species-rich faunal communities inhabiting whale carcasses in the deep sea has remained unexplored in areas other than the NE Pacific. Alfaro-Lucas and colleagues analyzed assemblages of microhabitats hypothesized to have different reducing conditions (O2 and H2S) in a small whale carcass (4204 m depth, SW Atlantic Ocean), using stable isotope analyses (δ13C and δ15N). Microhabitats representative of high and intermediate reducing conditions were dominated by consumers of chemosynthetic production, similar to those of diffusive areas of deep-sea hydrothermal vents and cold seeps. By contrast, microhabitats expected to have low reducing conditions showed greater trophic complexity and were dominated by higher consumers mainly relying on whale organic matter. Such a mosaic of microhabitats allows species-rich communities with numerous trophic levels to develop in a very small area of the food-limited deep sea.


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