Articles | Volume 10, issue 4
Research article
22 Apr 2013
Research article |  | 22 Apr 2013

Major consequences of an intense dense shelf water cascading event on deep-sea benthic trophic conditions and meiofaunal biodiversity

A. Pusceddu, M. Mea, M. Canals, S. Heussner, X. Durrieu de Madron, A. Sanchez-Vidal, S. Bianchelli, C. Corinaldesi, A. Dell'Anno, L. Thomsen, and R. Danovaro

Abstract. Numerous submarine canyons around the world are preferential conduits for episodic dense shelf water cascading (DSWC), which quickly modifies physical and chemical ambient conditions while transporting large amounts of material towards the base of slope and basin. Observations conducted during the last 20 yr in the Lacaze-Duthiers and Cap de Creus canyons (Gulf of Lion, NW Mediterranean Sea) report several intense DSWC events. The effects of DSWC on deep-sea ecosystems are almost unknown. To investigate the effects of these episodic events, we analysed changes in the meiofaunal biodiversity inside and outside the canyon. Sediment samples were collected at depths varying from ca. 1000 to > 2100 m in May 2004 (before a major event), April 2005 (during a major cascading event) and in October 2005, August 2006, April 2008 and April 2009 (after a major event). We report here that the late winter–early spring 2005 cascading led to a reduction of the organic matter contents in canyon floor sediments down to 1800 m depth, whereas surface sediments at about 2200 m depth showed an increase. Our findings suggest that the nutritional material removed from the shallower continental shelf, canyon floor and flanks, and also the adjacent open slope was rapidly transported to the deep margin. During the cascading event the meiofaunal abundance and biodiversity in the studied deep-sea sediments were significantly lower than after the event. Benthic assemblages during the cascading were significantly different from those in all other sampling periods in both the canyon and deep margin. After only six months from the cessation of the cascading, benthic assemblages in the impacted sediments were again similar to those observed in other sampling periods, thus illustrating a quick recovery. Since the present climate change is expected to increase the intensity and frequency of these episodic events, we anticipate that they will increasingly affect benthic bathyal ecosystems, which may eventually challenge their resilience.

Final-revised paper