Articles | Volume 10, issue 5
Research article
02 May 2013
Research article |  | 02 May 2013

Trophic state of benthic deep-sea ecosystems from two different continental margins off Iberia

A. Dell'Anno, A. Pusceddu, C. Corinaldesi, M. Canals, S. Heussner, L. Thomsen, and R. Danovaro

Abstract. The bioavailability of organic matter in benthic deep-sea ecosystems, commonly used to define their trophic state, can greatly influence key ecological processes such as biomass production and nutrient cycling. Here, we assess the trophic state of deep-sea sediments from open slopes and canyons of the Catalan (NW Mediterranean) and Portuguese (NE Atlantic) continental margins, offshore east and west Iberia, respectively, by using a biomimetic approach based on enzymatic digestion of protein and carbohydrate pools. Patterns of sediment trophic state were analyzed in relation to increasing water depth, including repeated samplings over a 3 yr period in the Catalan margin. Two out of the three sampling periods occurred a few months after dense shelf water cascading events. The benthic deep-sea ecosystems investigated in this study were characterized by high amounts of bioavailable organic matter when compared to other deep-sea sediments. Bioavailable organic matter and its nutritional value were significantly higher in the Portuguese margin than in the Catalan margin, thus reflecting differences in primary productivity of surface waters reported for the two regions. Similarly, sediments of the Catalan margin were characterized by significantly higher food quantity and quality in spring, when the phytoplankton bloom occurs in surface waters, than in summer and autumn. Differences in the benthic trophic state of canyons against open slopes were more evident in the Portuguese than in the Catalan margin. In both continental margins, bioavailable organic C concentrations did not vary or increase with increasing water depth. Overall, our findings suggest that the intensity of primary production processes along with the lateral transfer of organic particles, even amplified by episodic events, can have a role in controlling the quantity and distribution of bioavailable organic detritus and its nutritional value along these continental margin ecosystems.

Final-revised paper