Articles | Volume 12, issue 6
Research article
18 Mar 2015
Research article |  | 18 Mar 2015

The trophic and metabolic pathways of foraminifera in the Arabian Sea: evidence from cellular stable isotopes

R. M. Jeffreys, E. H. Fisher, A. J. Gooday, K. E. Larkin, D. S. M. Billett, and G. A. Wolff

Abstract. The Arabian Sea is a region of elevated productivity with the highest globally recorded fluxes of particulate organic matter (POM) to the deep ocean, providing an abundant food source for fauna at the seafloor. However, benthic communities are also strongly influenced by an intense oxygen minimum zone (OMZ), which impinges on the continental slope from 100 to 1000 m water depth. We compared the trophic ecology of foraminifera on the Oman and Pakistan margins of the Arabian Sea (140–3185 m water depth). These two margins are contrasting both in terms of the abundance of sedimentary organic matter and the intensity of the OMZ. Organic carbon concentrations of surficial sediments were higher on the Oman margin (3.32 ± 1.4%) compared to the Pakistan margin (2.45 ± 1.1%) and sedimentary organic matter (SOM) quality estimated from the Hydrogen Index was also higher on the Oman margin (300–400 mg HC mg TOC−1) compared to the Pakistan margin (< 250 mg HC mg TOC−1). The δ13C and δ15N values of sediments were similar on both margins (−20 and 8‰, respectively). Stable isotope analysis (SIA) showed that foraminiferal cells had a wide range of δ13C values (−25.5 to −11.5‰), implying that they utilise multiple food sources; indeed δ13C values varied between depths, foraminiferal types and between the two margins. Foraminifera had broad ranges in δ15N values (−7.8 to 27.3‰). The enriched values suggest that some species may store nitrate to utilise in respiration; this was most notable on the Pakistan margin. Depleted foraminiferal δ15N values, particularly at the Oman margin, may reflect feeding on chemosynthetic bacteria. We suggest that differences in productivity regimes may be responsible for the differences observed in foraminiferal isotopic composition. In addition, at the time of sampling, whole jellyfish carcasses (Crambionella orsini) and a carpet of jelly detritus were observed across the Oman margin transect. Associated chemosynthetic bacteria may have provided an organic-rich food source for foraminifera at these sites. Our data suggest that foraminifera in OMZ settings can utilise a variety of food sources and metabolic pathways to meet their energetic demands.

Final-revised paper