Mass deposition event of Pyrosoma atlanticum carcasses off Ivory Coast (West Africa)

Lebrato, M., D. O. B. Jones

Limnol. Oceanogr., 54(4), 2009, 1197-1209 | DOI: 10.4319/lo.2009.54.4.1197

ABSTRACT: Thousands of moribund thaliacean carcasses (Pyrosoma atlanticum) were deposited between February and March 2006 at the seafloor in the Ivory Coast area (West Africa). Remotely operated vehicle surveys were conducted in a continuous depth gradient between 20 and 1275 m along an oil pipeline. Video and still photography were used to estimate the carcass distribution, density, and size on the seabed, as well as recording the local megafauna interactions with the gelatinous material. Large patches of dead pyrosomids covered extensive areas on the continental slope, whereas minor aggregations were found on the shelf. The carcasses were in many instances trapped along the pipelines, accumulating extensively in troughs and furrows in the slope, and especially in soft sediment channels. Pyrosoma atlanticum dried samples were used to calculate the carbon content, enabling the extrapolation to the densities and sizes recorded in the video surveys. The average standing stock of organic carbon associated with the carcasses was >5 g C m-2 in the whole slope and canyon, with values as high as 22 g C m-2 in certain areas. Eight megafaunal species from three different phyla were observed 63 times directly feeding on the decomposing carcasses. The gelatinous carbon may have contributed substantially to the detrital food web including microbes at the seabed, and certainly to the diet of larger benthic organisms. The organism-level carbon measurements and documented fate of pyrosomid organic carbon is new evidence of the importance of gelatinous material in large-scale processes and elemental cycling.

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