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Oecologia. 2014 Mar;174(3):699-712. doi: 10.1007/s00442-013-2832-3. Epub 2013 Nov 26.

Fatty acid and stable isotope characteristics of sea ice and pelagic particulate organic matter in the Bering Sea: tools for estimating sea ice algal contribution to Arctic food web production.

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  • 1School of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences, Institute of Marine Science, University of Alaska Fairbanks, Fairbanks, AK, 99775, USA,


We determined fatty acid (FA) profiles and carbon stable isotopic composition of individual FAs (δ(13)CFA values) from sea ice particulate organic matter (i-POM) and pelagic POM (p-POM) in the Bering Sea during maximum ice extent, ice melt, and ice-free conditions in 2010. Based on FA biomarkers, differences in relative composition of diatoms, dinoflagellates, and bacteria were inferred for i-POM versus p-POM and for seasonal succession stages in p-POM. Proportions of diatom markers were higher in i-POM (16:4n-1, 6.6-8.7%; 20:5n-3, 19.6-25.9%) than in p-POM (16:4n-1, 1.2-4.0%; 20:5n-3, 5.5-14.0%). The dinoflagellate marker 22:6n-3/20:5n-3 was highest in p-POM. Bacterial FA concentration was higher in the bottom 1 cm of sea ice (14-245 μg L(-1)) than in the water column (0.6-1.7 μg L(-1)). Many i-POM δ(13)C(FA) values were higher (up to ~10‰) than those of p-POM, and i-POM δ(13)C(FA) values increased with day length. The higher i-POM δ(13)C(FA) values are most likely related to the reduced dissolved inorganic carbon (DIC) availability within the semi-closed sea ice brine channel system. Based on a modified Rayleigh equation, the fraction of sea ice DIC fixed in i-POM ranged from 12 to 73%, implying that carbon was not limiting for primary productivity in the sympagic habitat. These differences in FA composition and δ(13)C(FA) values between i-POM and p-POM will aid efforts to track the proportional contribution of sea ice algal carbon to higher trophic levels in the Bering Sea and likely other Arctic seas.

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