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Phytopigments as biomarkers of selectivity in abyssal holothurians; interspecific differences in response to a changing food supply

By Tania FitzGeorge-Balfour, David S.M. Billett, George A. Wolff, Anu Thompson and Paul A. Tyler


Holothurians dominate the abyssal megabenthos. They are key consumers and bioturbators of surficial sediment. Compounds essential for holothurian reproduction, such as carotenoids, are in short supply in the deep ocean. Holothurians cannot synthesise carotenoids de novo; the compounds are supplied with the flux of phytodetritus. Therefore, the supply of these compounds may play an important role in regulating processes on the seafloor. This study examines the link between the diet of abyssal holothurians and their ovarian carotenoid biochemistry. Phytodetritus, surficial sediment, holothurian gut content and ovaries were sampled in June 2004 and in July 2005 at the Porcupine Abyssal Plain (PAP), NE Atlantic. Gut content chlorophyll a concentration showed that Amperima rosea, Peniagone diaphana and Oneirophanta mutabilis fed selectively on fresh organic matter, although when this was scarce, O. mutabilis was outcompeted and fed on more refractory material. All three species display consistent ovarian carotenoid profiles and have relatively high carotenoid concentrations in their ovaries. Psychropotes longicauda, Paroriza prouhoi, Pseudostichopus aemulatus, P. villosus and Molpadia blakei fed less selectively and exhibited low ovarian carotenoid concentrations with inconsistent profiles. The results suggest that abyssal holothurian ovarian biochemistry is a complex function of OM supply, holothurian feeding guild and reproductive adaptation. Changes in upper ocean biogeochemistry, altering the composition of organic matter reaching the deep-sea floor, may favour certain holothurian species, as suggested by the interspecific differences in holothurian ovarian biochemistry. This may lead to large community changes as seen at the PAP, which can alter the reworking rates of sediment, probably affecting carbon burial. The study also demonstrated that using the presence of biomarkers in gut contents to infer feeding selectivity should be used with caution. Only biomarkers in gut contents that are not present in the tissues of the holothurians (e.g., chlorophyll a) should be used to determine their feeding selectivity

Year: 2010
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Provided by: e-Prints Soton

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