Depth-related structure and ecological significance of cold-seep communities—a case study from the Sea of Okhotsk

Sahling, Heiko, Galkin, S. V., Salyukm, A., Greinert, Jens, Foerstel, H., Piepenburg, Dieter and Suess, Erwin (2003) Depth-related structure and ecological significance of cold-seep communities—a case study from the Sea of Okhotsk Deep Sea Research Part I: Oceanographic Research Papers, 50 (12). pp. 1391-1409. DOI 10.1016/j.dsr.2003.08.004.

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We discovered and investigated several cold-seep sites in four depth zones of the Sea of Okhotsk off Northeast Sakhalin: outer shelf (160–250 m), upper slope (250–450 m), intermediate slope (450–800 m), and Derugin Basin (1450–1600 m). Active seepage of free methane or methane-rich fluids was detected in each zone. However, seabed photography and sampling revealed that the number of chemoautotrophic species decreases dramatically with decreasing water depth. At greatest depths in the Derugin Basin, the seeps were inhabited by bacterial mats and bivalves of the families Vesicomyidae (Calyptogena aff. pacifica, C. rectimargo, Archivesica sp.), Solemyidae (Acharax sp.) and Thyasiridae (Conchocele bisecta). In addition, pogonophoran tubeworms of the family Sclerolinidae were found in barite edifices. At the shallowest sites, on the shelf at 160 m, the seeps lack chemoautotrophic macrofauna; their locations were indicated only by the patchy occurrence of bacterial mats.

Typical seep-endemic metazoans with chemosynthetic symbionts were confined to seep sites at depths below 370 m. A comparative analysis of the structure of seep and background communities suggests that differences in predation pressure may be an important determinant of this pattern. The abundance of predators such as carnivorous brachyurans and asteroids, which can invade seeps from adjacent habitats and efficiently prey on sessile seep bivalves, decreased very pronouncedly with depth. We conclude from the obvious correlation with the conspicuous pattern in the distribution of seep assemblages that, on the shelf and at the upper slope, predator pressure may be high enough to effectively impede any successful settlement of viable populations of seep-endemic metazoans. However, there was also evidence that other depth-related factors, such as bottom-water current, sedimentary regimes, oxygen concentrations and the supply of suitable settling substrates, may additionally regulate the distribution of seep fauna in the area.

As a consequence of the pronounced pattern in the distribution of seep communities, their ecological significance as food sources of surrounding background fauna increased with water depth. Isotopic analyses suggest that in the Derugin Basin seep colonists feed on chemoautotrophic seep organisms, either directly or by preying on metazoans with chemosynthetic symbionts. In contrast, seep organisms apparently do not contribute to the nutrition of the adjacent background fauna on the shelf and at the slope. In this area, elevated epifaunal abundances at seep sites were caused primarily by the availability of suitable settling substrates rather than by an enrichment of food supply.

Document Type: Article
Keywords: Cold seeps; Community composition; Predation; Oasis concept; Chemoautotrophy; Sea of Okhotsk
Research affiliation: OceanRep > Geomar Research Center for Marine Geosciences
OceanRep > SFB 574
OceanRep > SFB 574 > B3
Refereed: Yes
DOI etc.: 10.1016/j.dsr.2003.08.004
ISSN: 0967-0637
Contribution Number:
SFB 57439
Date Deposited: 07 Apr 2010 11:50
Last Modified: 28 Oct 2016 08:24

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