Articles | Volume 12, issue 6
Research article
25 Mar 2015
Research article |  | 25 Mar 2015

The contribution of zooplankton faecal pellets to deep-carbon transport in the Scotia Sea (Southern Ocean)

C. Manno, G. Stowasser, P. Enderlein, S. Fielding, and G. A. Tarling

Abstract. The northern Scotia Sea contains the largest seasonal uptake of atmospheric carbon dioxide yet measured in the Southern Ocean. This study examines one of the main routes by which this carbon fluxes to the deep ocean: through the production of faecal pellets (FPs) by the zooplankton community. Deep sediment traps were deployed at two sites with contrasting ocean productivity regimes (P3, naturally iron-fertilized, and P2, iron-limited) within the same water mass. The magnitude and seasonal pattern of particulate organic carbon (POC) and FPs in the traps was markedly different between the two sites. Maximum fluxes at P3 (22.91 mg C m−2 d−1; 2534 FP m−2 d1) were 1 order of magnitude higher than at P2 (4.01 mg C m−2 d−1; 915 FP m−2 d1, with flux at P3 exhibiting a double seasonal peak, compared to a single flatter peak at P2. The maximum contribution of FP carbon to the total amount of POC was twice as high at P3 (91%) compared to P2 (40%). The dominant FP category at P3 varied between round, ovoidal, cylindrical and tabular over the course of the year, while, at P2, ovoidal FPs were consistently dominant, always making up more than 60% of the FP assemblage. There was also a difference in the FP state between the two sites, with FPs being relatively intact at P3, while FPs were often fragmented with broken peritrophic membranes at P2. The exception was ovoidal FPs, which were relatively intact at both sites. Our observations suggest that there was a community shift from a herbivorous to an omnivorous diet from spring through to autumn at P3, while detritivores had a higher relative importance over the year at P2. Furthermore, the flux was mainly a product of the vertically migrating zooplankton community at P3, while the FP flux was more likely to be generated by deeper-dwelling zooplankton feeding on recycled material at P2. The results demonstrate that the feeding behaviour and vertical distribution of the zooplankton community plays a critical role in controlling the magnitude of carbon export to the deep ocean in this region.

Short summary
In the Scotia Sea, the zooplankton community shifting from a herbivorous to omnivorous diet strongly influences the chance of faecal pellets to reach the bottom. Faecal pellet flux was mainly a product of the vertically migrating and deeper-dwelling zooplankton in the iron-fertilized and iron-limited region respectively. The results demonstrate that the behaviour of the zooplankton community plays a critical role in controlling the quantity and quality of carbon exported in this area.
Final-revised paper