Benthic Food Webs of the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas: Relative Importance of Ultimate Carbon Sources in a Changing Climate

Thursday, 18 December 2014
Kenneth H Dunton1, Susan V Schonberg1, Nathan Mctigue2, Philip A Bucolo1, Tara L Connelly1 and James W McClelland1, (1)University of Texas Marine Science Institute, Port Aransas, TX, United States, (2)National Ocean Service, Silver Spring, MD, United States
Changes in sea-ice cover, coastal erosion, and freshwater run-off have the potential to greatly influence carbon assimilation pathways and affect trophic structure in benthic communities across the western Arctic. In the Chukchi Sea, variations in the duration and timing of ice cover affect the delivery of ice algae to a relatively shallow (40-50 m) shelf benthos. Although ice algae are known as an important spring carbon subsidy for marine benthic fauna, ice algal contributions may also help initiate productivity of an active microphytobenthos. Recent studies provide clear evidence that the microphytobenthos are photosynthetically active, and have sufficient light and nutrients for in situ growth. The assimilation of benthic diatoms from both sources may explain the 13C enrichment observed in benthic primary consumers throughout the northern Chukchi. On the eastern Beaufort Sea coast, shallow (2-4 m) estuarine lagoon systems receive massive subsidies of terrestrial carbon that is assimilated by a benthic fauna of significant importance to upper trophic level species, but again, distinct 13C enrichment in benthic primary consumers suggests the existence of an uncharacterized food source. Since ice algae are absent, we believe the 13C enrichment in benthic fauna is caused by the assimilation of benthic microalgae, as reflected in seasonally high benthic chlorophyll in spring under replete light and nutrient conditions. Our observations suggest that changes in ice cover, on both temporal and spatial scales, are likely to have significant effects on the magnitude and timing of organic matter delivery to both shelf and nearshore systems, and that locally produced organic matter may become an increasingly important carbon subsidy that affects trophic assimilation and secondary ecosystem productivity.