C-14 as a tracer of labile organic matter in Antarctic benthic food webs

TitleC-14 as a tracer of labile organic matter in Antarctic benthic food webs
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2008
AuthorsPurinton, BL, DeMaster, DJ, Thomas, CJ, Smith, CR
JournalDeep-Sea Research Part Ii-Topical Studies in Oceanography

C-14 measurements were made on surface plankton, particle-trap material, surface sediment, benthic invertebrate gut contents, and body tissue samples to assess the effectiveness of this radioisotope as a tracer of labile organic carbon in Antarctic benthic food webs. Samples were collected on five cruises to the West Antarctic Peninsula (WAP) shelf between November 1999 and March 2001 as part of the Food for Benthos on the ANtarctic Continental-Shelf (FOODBANCS) Project. The 14C contents of the body tissues from a variety of deposit feeders (-126 +/- 13 per mil) were substantially enriched relative to the surface sediment (-234 +/- 13 per mil) and statistically similar to the organic matter collected in plankton tows (-135 +/- 10 per mil), indicating that recently produced marine plankton are the primary source of nutrition for these deposit feeders on the West Antarctic shelf. Selective ingestion was the primary feeding strategy used by echiuran worms and certain holothurians (i.e. Peniagone vignoni) for incorporating labile organic carbon into their tissues as demonstrated by the large differences (105 +/- 13 per mil) between surface sediment and gut content C-14 activities. In contrast, digestive and/or assimilatory, selection was the predominant strategy used by an irregular urchin (Amphipneustes lorioli) and several other holothurians (Protelpidia murrayi, Bathyplotes fuscivinculum and the head-clown conveyor belt feeder, Molpadia musculus), as demonstrated by large differences (42 +/- 7 per mil) between the 14C activities of their foregut or whole-gut organic contents and their body tissues. Despite large fluctuations in carbon export from the euphotic zone, benthic feeding strategies remained essentially constant over the 15-month sampling period. No seasonal variation was evident in either the 14C abundance of the deposit-feeder body tissues, or in the 14C abundance of their gut contents. The mean C-14 abundance in the body tissues of the two sub-surface deposit feeders (A. lorioli and M. musculus; mean = -136.2 +/- 8.5 per mil) was distinct (p = 0.0008) from the mean 14C abundance in the body tissues of the four surface deposit feeders (echiuran worm, P vignoni, P. murrayi, and B. fusciviculum; -122.6 +/- 12.3 per mil). The mean 14 C abundance of the gut contents from the sub-surface deposit feeders (-178.0 +/- 18.6 per mil) also was significantly depleted (p = 0.0009) relative to that of the surface deposit feeders (-149.5 +/- 26.6 per mil). The 14C measurements proved to be a much more sensitive tracer for tracking labile organic carbon during ingestive and assimilatory processes than the stable isotopes of carbon or nitrogen. (C) 2008 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.