Megafauna Can Control the Quality of Organic Matter in Marine Sediments
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On the highly productive Oman Margin of the Arabian Sea, where an intense permanent oxygen minimum impinges on the continental slope, there is no relationship between oxygen concentration and sedimentary organic-carbon content. However, we provide photographic and molecular evidence that benthic invertebrates play a significant role in the redistribution of organic matter. High densities of spider crabs and brittle stars characterize a narrow band near the base of the oxygen minimum zone, where sediments have depleted organic carbon contents and a remarkable lipid composition that is indicative of metabolic alteration of phytoplankton-derived sterols by invertebrate detritivores. The distributions of sedimentary sterols and the high abundances of epifaunal crabs and brittle stars suggest that the metabolism of the megabenthos profoundly influences the quality of organic matter in underlying sediments.
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