Composition and degradation of marine particles with different settling velocities in the northwestern Mediterranean Sea

Goutx, Madeleine, Stuart G. Wakeham, Cindy Lee, Marie Duflos, Catherine Guigue, Zhanfei Liu, Brivaëla Moriceau, Richard Sempéré, Marc Tedetti, Jianhong Xue

Limnol. Oceanogr., 52(4), 2007, 1645-1664 | DOI: 10.4319/lo.2007.52.4.1645

ABSTRACT: Settling particles were collected from the Ligurian Sea in the northwestern Mediterranean Sea in May 2003 and separated by elutriation into different settling velocity classes (>230, 115-230, 58-115, and <58 m d-1). Particles of the different classes were incubated for 5 d to study their biodegradability. Particulate opal content and organic compound composition (amino acids, pigments, lipids, and carbohydrates) were analyzed initially and at regular time intervals during the incubation period. Most particles (48-67% of total mass) sank at greater than 230 m d-1 and were dominated by large diatom-derived aggregates produced during the spring bloom period. The initial organic composition and the biological lability of these particles varied with settling velocity. The strong phytoplankton signal was visible in all settling velocity classes, while slower settling particles carried with them a greater zooplankton and bacterial signature. As the different class particles decomposed, their compositions changed and became more similar with time, with a dominance of compounds that suggests a more degraded state: the amino acids χ-aminobutyric acid and β-alanine, the pigments pyropheophorbide and pheophytin, the deoxysugars fucose and rhamnose, and lipid metabolites (diglycerides and monoglycerides, alcohols, and free fatty acids). Biogenic opal in the particles dissolved faster in more degraded particles than in fresher particles, suggesting that loss of organic matter may expose opal to dissolution. The coupling of settling velocity and decomposition rate measurements shows quantitatively that slower settling particles are quickly degraded and faster settling particles retain their original biological signal to a greater degree. Greater preservation of faster settling particles testifies to the importance of these particles as food resources for bathypelagic and surface sediment communities.

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