Project: Structure, Function and Evolution of Authigenic, Methane-Derived Carbonate Ecosystems
Acronym: Authigenic Carbonate Ecosystems
Start date: 2008-10
End date: 2012-09
Geolocation: Costa Rica seafloor methane seeps 8 deg 55 N 84 deg 18 W depth 990m
Authigenic carbonate precipitation associated with methane seepage is typically mediated by anaerobic oxidation of methane (AOM). This microbial process produces massive amounts of carbonate rock, introducing habitat heterogeneity to continental margins and providing a major repository for methane-derived carbon released from the sea floor. This study will investigate the extent to which these carbonate substrates form a distinct ecosystem within the seep environment by characterizing associated microbial, foraminiferal, macrofaunal and megafaunal communities in a successional context. Surveys and sampling of carbonate will take place at 4 bathyal locations on the Costa Rica margin (730-1300 m) and at Hydrate Ridge North on the Oregon margin (590 m).
Location differences and associated water depth, oxygenation, seep megafauna and carbonate formation variation are expected to influence community composition. This study will characterize assemblages inhabiting carbonates subject to active, weak and no methane seepage, and conduct rock colonization and transplant experiments to address the following main hypotheses:(1) Under conditions of active seepage at the seafloor-water interface, authigenic carbonate functions as a distinct ecosystem fueled by AOM, with its own sources of (chemosynthetic) primary and secondary production; (2) Seep carbonate faunal communities undergo succession driven by methane supply and microbial activity; (3) Sessile seep carbonate assemblages include mainly microbial, protozoan and metazoan species that are taxonomically and evolutionarily distinct from the biota of surrounding seep sediments, but ecologically and evolutionarily related to deep-sea, hard-substrate and reducing faunas, including those from seeps, vents, coral mounds and whale bones.
Single rocks will be split and sectioned for carbonate mineralogy and isotopic analysis, FISH-SIMS analyses of endogeneous microorganisms and their respective delta 13C signatures, faunal (protozoan and metazoan) taxonomic, lifestyle and position studies. Stable isotopic and lipid analyses of foraminifera and metazoan protoplasm, delta 18O and delta 13C signatures of foraminiferan tests and mollusk shells will be linked to microbial and carbonate signatures to assess trophic pathways and paleo proxies for methane release. Archaea and AOM are hypothesized as key to both. Defaunated carbonate substrates will be deployed at active and inactive sites for 1 year to examine early faunal succession and the role of external seepage. Rocks transplanted between inactive and active sites, with appropriate manipulation controls, will provide additional information about faunal reliance on seepage and persistence of AOM in the absence of seepage. Community comparisons will be drawn with seep sediments, other biotic substrates (mussels, clams, tubeworms) and with other deep-sea reducing and hardground systems (vents, whales, deep-water corals). Macrofaunal assemblages will be DNA and selected annelid and foraminiferan taxa will be targeted for phylogenetic analyses to assess evolutionary affinities with fauna from other hardground-reducing ecosystems (vents).
Broader Impacts: Benefits of this research to society include: (1) an understanding of seep carbonate ecosystems for improved marine resource management and more comprehensive assessments of seafloor biodiversity, carbon cycling, and adaptations to extreme environments; and (2) a model for successional changes in carbonate ecosystems and the use of their faunas as proxies to more accurately assess past methane release and paleoclimate change. Education and outreach will include local school presentations; web site development and interdisciplinary, hands-on, at-sea training of future scientists at undergraduate, graduate, and post-doc levels, including under-represented groups (women; first-generation university students from rural communities) recruited through SURF, STARS and REU programs. Research results will be incorporated into lectures, exercises and field trips for deep-sea biology, microbiology, geology, paleontology, oceanography and benthic ecology courses, and onto websites and databases managed by the Census of Marine Life and the SIO Benthic Invertebrate Collection.
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