Sediment community responses to marine vs. terrigenous organic matter in a submarine canyon
Abstract. The Whittard Canyon is a branching submarine canyon on the Celtic continental margin, which may act as a conduit for sediment and organic matter (OM) transport from the European continental slope to the abyssal sea floor. In situ stable-isotope labelling experiments were conducted in the eastern and western branches of the Whittard Canyon, testing short-term (3–7 days) responses of sediment communities to deposition of nitrogen-rich marine (Thalassiosira weissflogii) and nitrogen-poor terrigenous (Triticum aestivum) phytodetritus. 13C and 15N labels were traced into faunal biomass and bulk sediments, and the 13C label traced into bacterial polar lipid fatty acids (PLFAs). Isotopic labels penetrated to 5 cm sediment depth, with no differences between stations or experimental treatments (substrate or time). Macrofaunal assemblage structure differed between the eastern and western canyon branches. Following deposition of marine phytodetritus, no changes in macrofaunal feeding activity were observed between the eastern and western branches, with little change between 3 and 7 days. Macrofaunal C and N uptake was substantially lower following deposition of terrigenous phytodetritus with feeding activity governed by a strong N demand. Bacterial C uptake was greatest in the western branch of the Whittard Canyon, but feeding activity decreased between 3 and 7 days. Bacterial processing of marine and terrigenous OM were similar to the macrofauna in surficial (0–1 cm) sediments. However, in deeper sediments bacteria utilised greater proportions of terrigenous OM. Bacterial biomass decreased following phytodetritus deposition and was negatively correlated to macrofaunal feeding activity. Consequently, this study suggests that macrofaunal–bacterial interactions influence benthic C cycling in the Whittard Canyon, resulting in differential fates for marine and terrigenous OM.