, Volume 31, Issue 1, pp 1-13

Carbon sources of Antarctic nematodes as revealed by natural carbon isotope ratios and a pulse-chase experiment

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δ13C of nematode communities in 27 sites was analyzed, spanning a large depth range (from 130 to 2,021 m) in five Antarctic regions, and compared to isotopic signatures of sediment organic matter. Sediment organic matter δ13C ranged from −24.4 to −21.9‰ without significant differences between regions, substrate types or depths. Nematode δ13C showed a larger range, from −34.6 to −19.3‰, and was more depleted than sediment organic matter typically by 1‰ and by up to 3‰ in silty substrata. These, and the isotopically heavy meiofauna at some stations, suggest substantial selectivity of some meiofauna for specific components of the sedimenting plankton. However, 13C-depletion in lipids and a potential contribution of chemoautotrophic carbon in the diet of the abundant genus Sabatieria may confound this interpretation. Carbon sources for Antarctic nematodes were also explored by means of an experiment in which the fate of a fresh pulse of labile carbon to the benthos was followed. This organic carbon was remineralized at a rate (11–20 mg C m−2 day−1) comparable to mineralization rates in continental slope sediments. There was no lag between sedimentation and mineralization; uptake by nematodes, however, did show such a lag. Nematodes contributed negligibly to benthic carbon mineralization.