Fatty acids as biomarkers for food web structure in the eastern North Pacific Ocean

Wednesday, 16 December 2015
Poster Hall (Moscone South)
Jonathan Behrens, University of Chicago, Chicago, IL, United States, Lihini Aluwihare, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, La Jolla, CA, United States and Brandon M Stephens, University of Calif San Diego, La Jolla, CA, United States
Resulting from a NSF funded REU program at Scripps Institution of Oceanography in 2015, this research utilized gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (GC-MS) to analyze the fatty acid composition of suspended particulate organic matter (POM) and zooplankton (ZP; primarily copepods). Samples analyzed for this study were collected simultaneously from surface waters approximately 9 miles off the coast of San Diego in June 2015. I was testing the hypothesis that essential fatty acids in ZP should reflect their diet, in particular, distinguishing contributions from a microbial versus traditional food web. Food web structure in this region of the ocean has been shown to be sensitive to climate change on inter-annual and longer timescales. Thus, a proxy that identifies restructuring of food webs would be useful for examining the response of ocean ecosystems to future climate change. Lipids were extracted from ZP and POM using a modified Bligh and Dyer method with sonication. Following saponification free fatty acids and other lipids were further purified using column chromatography. Polar functional groups in lipids were then methylated prior to GC-MS analysis. In addition, 2-dimensional GCxGC with time of flight MS was used to distinguish polyunsaturated fatty acid isomers. My poster will present initial findings of shared fatty acids of zooplankton and POM suspended material from the Northern Pacific collection site. Further research will be focused on analyzing the hydrogen isotope composition of fatty acids in zooplankton and suspended DOM obtained at the collection site to further characterize and increase certainty on the role of microbes and phytoplankton in the region’s food-web to distinguish prokaryotic and eukaryotic sources.