, Volume 108, Issue 1, pp 167-174

Suspended particulate organic matter in a Mediterranean submarine cave

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Submarine caves display a paucity of benthic density and biomass that may be related to low trophic resources. Analysis of organic carbon, organic nitrogen, carbohydrate, protein and lipid content of suspended particulate matter was made during the period July 1985–July 1987 in a Mediterranean cave (Marseille, France) in order to determine any differences in the particulate organic matter composition along an horizontal transect. Particulate organic matter content clearly declined from the entrance of the cave to the dark inner area. This impoverishment could not be explained by a simple decrease in a few organic compounds, but appeared to be related to the combination of a decrease in both the amount and the composition of the suspended particles. Three progressive levels of impoverishment were identified towards the dark inner area of the cave: (i) decreasing amounts of seston; (ii) decreasing organic content of particles; (iii) increasing proportions of the geopolymeric (i.e., humic) components in the remaining organic matter, indicating increased degradation. The cave appeared to be sharply divided into two distinct sections — a twilight outer section whose waters contained slightly lower amounts of particulate organic matter than the open sea, and a dark inner section, 8 to 10 m higher, separated from the outer section by a steep rise and with waters of low organic matter content. The water in the twilight section appeared to be in thermal equilibrium with the open sea, and that in the dark inner section displayed thermal stratification. These differences indicated the presence of two distinct water bodies with contrasting average residence times, estimated as 1 d in the outer twilight section and 8 d in the dark inner section. The joint action of sedimentation and degradation resulted in an abrupt depletion of particulate organic matter in the dark inner section accompanied by a decrease in the benthic fauna. The decline in benthic heterotroph populations is probably related to the abrupt transition to oligotrophic conditions.

Communicated by J. M. Pérès, Marseille