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Temperature effects on carbon mineralization of sinking copepod carcasses

Belén Franco-Cisterna*, Peter Stief, Ronnie N. Glud

*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: Copepod carcasses are prevalent in marine ecosystems and might represent an important component of the sinking flux of particulate organic carbon in the ocean. The extent to which copepod carcasses contribute to the biological carbon pump is controlled by different environmental factors, including temperature. However, the effect of temperature on the longer-term kinetics of carbon mineralization of copepod carcasses is little studied. Here, we conducted laboratory experiments to quantify the carbon mineralization associated with sinking carcasses of the cosmopolitan copepod Acartia tonsa (A. tonsa) through aerobic microbial respiration at five temperatures (20, 16, 12, 8, and 4°C). Microbial respiration rates associated with the carcasses were positively correlated with temperature and characterized by an initial short lag-phase, a rapid increase to a maximum rate, and a subsequent gradual decline in the rate of degradation. On average, 50% of the total carbon of the carcasses was mineralized within 6–12 d at 20°C, versus >60 d at 4°C. During the incubations, most of the carbon mineralization occurred in the ambient seawater likely fueled by dissolved organic carbon leaking from the carcasses into the surrounding seawater. Extrapolating measured carbon turnover and sinking rates suggests that at 20°C, the mineralization of sinking copepod carcasses is constrained to the surface ocean. In contrast, at 4°C, sinking copepod carcasses can reach the deep ocean before they have been completely degraded. Hence, in low-temperature regions, copepod carcasses may represent an important agent for carbon export through the biological carbon pump.