MEPS 596:1-12 (2018)  -  DOI: https://doi.org/10.3354/meps12617

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

Joan M. Alfaro-Lucas1,3,*, Maurício Shimabukuro1, Isabella V. Ogata1, Yoshihiro Fujiwara2, Paulo Y. G. Sumida1

1Instituto Oceanográfico, Universidade de São Paulo, Praça do Oceanográfico, 191, CEP 05508-120, São Paulo-SP, Brazil
2Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology - JAMSTEC, 2-15 Natsushimacho, Yokosuka 237-0061, Japan
3Present address: Institut Français de Recherche pour l’Exploitation de la Mer (IFREMER), Centre de Bretagne, REM/EEP, Institut Carnot EDROME, F-29280, Plouzané, France
*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: The trophic structure and role of chemosynthesis remain unexplored in deep-sea whale-fall communities in areas other than the California margin. This gap limits the understanding of these communities and their ecological relationships with other chemosynthetic ecosystems, such as vents and seeps. Here, we studied 3 different whale skeleton microhabitats with hypothesized high, intermediate and low reducing conditions as well as the sediments surrounding an abyssal whale fall (4204 m depth, SW Atlantic Ocean). We analyzed trophic structures (δ13C and δ15N) and the contribution of chemosynthetically derived carbon to heterotrophic species. The high and intermediate reducing microhabitats harbored food webs dominated by consumers of chemosynthetic production, similar to those of diffusive areas of hydrothermal vents and seeps. Both the low reducing microhabitat and the sediments harbored food webs with greater trophic complexity, dominated by higher consumers mainly relying on whale and/or photosynthesis-derived organic matter, a type of food web commonly reported in small whale, wood and kelp falls. The main whale-fall ecosystem engineer, the bone-eating worm Osedax, appeared to produce unique food web effects not observed in other chemosynthetic habitats. We conclude that whale falls provide the deep sea with a mosaic of microhabitats that supports assemblages with different chemosynthesis reliance levels and trophic structures, similar to those found at vents and seeps. Such a mosaic allows species-rich communities with numerous trophic levels to develop in a very small area of the food-limited deep sea.


KEY WORDS: Deep sea · Whale fall · Trophic structure · Chemosynthesis · Osedax


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Cite this article as: Alfaro-Lucas JM, Shimabukuro M, Ogata IV, Fujiwara Y, Sumida PYG (2018) Trophic structure and chemosynthesis contributions to heterotrophic fauna inhabiting an abyssal whale carcass. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 596:1-12. https://doi.org/10.3354/meps12617

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