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Nature. 2003 Aug 14;424(6950):763-6.

In situ experimental evidence of the fate of a phytodetritus pulse at the abyssal sea floor.

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Max-Planck-Institute for Marine Microbiology, Celsiusstrasse 1, 28359 Bremen, Germany.


More than 50% of the Earth' s surface is sea floor below 3,000 m of water. Most of this major reservoir in the global carbon cycle and final repository for anthropogenic wastes is characterized by severe food limitation. Phytodetritus is the major food source for abyssal benthic communities, and a large fraction of the annual food load can arrive in pulses within a few days. Owing to logistical constraints, the available data concerning the fate of such a pulse are scattered and often contradictory, hampering global carbon modelling and anthropogenic impact assessments. We quantified (over a period of 2.5 to 23 days) the response of an abyssal benthic community to a phytodetritus pulse, on the basis of 11 in situ experiments. Here we report that, in contrast to previous hypotheses, the sediment community oxygen consumption doubled immediately, and that macrofauna were very important for initial carbon degradation. The retarded response of bacteria and Foraminifera, the restriction of microbial carbon degradation to the sediment surface, and the low total carbon turnover distinguish abyssal from continental-slope 'deep-sea' sediments.

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