Ginger, Michael L., Billett, David S.M., Mackenzie, Karen L., Kiriakoulakis, Konstandinos, Neto, Renato R., K. Boardman, Daniel, Santos, Vera L.C.S., Horsfall, Ian M. and A. Wolff, George (2001) Organic matter assimilation and selective feeding by holothurians in the deep sea: some observations and comments. Progress in Oceanography, 50 (1-4). pp. 407-421. ISSN 0079-6611

The selective feeding behaviour and assimilation efficiencies of deep-sea holothurians were investigated in order to assess their impact on carbon and nitrogen remineralisation on the Porcupine Abyssal Plain (PAP; ∼ 49°N 16°W, ∼ 4850 m water depth). Unfortunately, reliable determination of organic matter in the gut contents of the organisms proved to be difficult, because of the lysis of cells associated with the death of the animals on recovery. This was expressed in high levels of free fatty acids in the gut contents of Oneirophanta mutabilis, which we ascribe to unregulated lipolysis of phospholipids and triacylglycerides. It was not possible to estimate accurately the contribution that such material made to the gut contents, but based on the distributions of sterols in the gut sediments, it is likely to have been substantial. Therefore, all assimilation efficiencies calculated for holothurians in the deep sea should be treated with caution.

Fortuitously, a bloom of holothurians that feed on the sediment surface (namely Amperima rosea and Ellipinion molle) during the period of study provided an opportunity indirectly to assess the impact of megafauna on organic matter cycling at the PAP. Observations suggest that the depletion of phytosterols from the surficial sediments between July and October 1997 resulted from the selective uptake of fresh phytodetritus by the blooming species. Deep-sea holothurians do not biosynthesise sterols de novo and an estimate of the sterol required by the increased population of A. rosea and E. molle is equivalent to the sterol flux to the seafloor during the spring/summer of 1997. The implications are dramatic. Firstly, these and other megafauna apparently turned over and selectively removed phytosterols from the freshly arrived phytodetritus and the surficial sediment (0–5 mm) at the PAP in less than four months. Secondly, their action impacted the food resource available to other organisms. Finally, as phytosterols are expensive to biosynthesise and are apparently an important resource for holothurians, we speculate that the supply of these compounds to the sedimentary community may be one important control on their population in the abyssal ocean.

Add to AnyAdd to TwitterAdd to FacebookAdd to LinkedinAdd to PinterestAdd to Email