Copepod faecal pellet transfer through the meso- and bathypelagic layers in the Southern Ocean in spring
Abstract. The faecal pellets (FPs) of zooplankton can be important vehicles for the transfer of particulate organic carbon (POC) to the deep ocean, often making large contributions to carbon sequestration. However, the routes by which these FPs reach the deep ocean have yet to be fully resolved. We address this by comparing estimates of copepod FP production to measurements of copepod FP size, shape, and number in the upper mesopelagic (175–205 m) using Marine Snow Catchers, and in the bathypelagic using sediment traps (1500–2000 m). The study is focussed on the Scotia Sea, which contains some of the most productive regions in the Southern Ocean, where epipelagic FP production is likely to be high. We found that, although the size distribution of the copepod community suggests that high numbers of small FPs are produced in the epipelagic, small FPs are rare in the deeper layers, implying that they are not transferred efficiently to depth. Consequently, small FPs make only a minor contribution to FP fluxes in the meso- and bathypelagic, particularly in terms of carbon. The dominant FPs in the upper mesopelagic were cylindrical and elliptical, while ovoid FPs were dominant in the bathypelagic. The change in FP morphology, as well as size distribution, points to the repacking of surface FPs in the mesopelagic and in situ production in the lower meso- and bathypelagic, which may be augmented by inputs of FPs via zooplankton vertical migrations. The flux of carbon to the deeper layers within the Southern Ocean is therefore strongly modulated by meso- and bathypelagic zooplankton, meaning that the community structure in these zones has a major impact on the efficiency of FP transfer to depth.