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Consumer isoscapes reveal heterogeneous food webs in deep-sea submarine canyons and adjacent slopes

March 8, 2024

The deep sea is the largest biome on earth, but one of the least studied despite its critical role in global carbon cycling and climate buffering. Deep-sea organisms largely rely on particulate organic matter from the surface ocean for energy – these organisms in turn play critical roles in energy transport, transformation, storage, and sequestration of carbon. Within the deep sea, submarine canyons are amongst the most complex and dynamic environments in our oceans, where varied morphology, powerful currents, and variable nutrient conditions influence the distribution of species and transport of organic material throughout the water column and the seafloor. Significant habitat heterogeneity provides ideal substrates for cold-water corals, making submarine canyons of interest to conservation and management. However, how these and other topographic features in the deep ocean influence energy flow and trophic pathways is poorly known. Thus, submarine canyons serve as model systems to track variability in organic material flux and consequential utilization and assimilation by the benthos. In this study, we used an extensive stable isotope dataset to examine food-web structure in Baltimore and Norfolk submarine canyons and compared them to their adjacent slopes located along the U.S. Atlantic margin. Linear models were used to construct geospatially-explicit consumer isoscapes that predicted variation in carbon and nitrogen isotopes across the canyon-slope seascape, providing a predictive map from which to test hypotheses on the distribution and flow of energy resources, relevant to understanding whole community function. Communities were composed of isotopically diverse feeding groups with photosynthetically-derived organic carbon providing the basal food resource. Canyon communities were distinct from the slope, with canyon consumers significantly 13C-depleted, indicating a greater supply and/or utilization of fresh organic matter compared to the slope. Isoscapes for benthic and suspension feeders were distinct, possibly due to the consumption of different quality organic matter sources (fresh = suspension feeders, old = benthic feeders), each with distinct isotope composition. To our knowledge, our modeled isoscapes represent the first spatially extensive isotopic maps of deep-sea consumers, providing insights into regional-scale variation in stable carbon and nitrogen isotopes for different consumer groups. They provide a baseline for tracking climate-change induced fluctuations in the quality and availability of surface primary production and the consequential impact to benthic communities, which play critical roles in carbon cycling in our world’s oceans.

    Publication Year 2024
    Title Consumer isoscapes reveal heterogeneous food webs in deep-sea submarine canyons and adjacent slopes
    DOI 10.1016/j.pocean.2024.103231
    Authors Amanda Demopoulos, Brian J. Smith, Jill Bourque, Jason Chaytor, Jennifer McClain Counts, Nancy G. Prouty, Steve W. Ross, Sandra Brooke, Gerard Duineveld, Furu Mienis
    Publication Type Article
    Publication Subtype Journal Article
    Series Title Progress in Oceanography
    Index ID 70252155
    Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
    USGS Organization Pacific Coastal and Marine Science Center; Wetland and Aquatic Research Center