Research Article: Trophic structure and energy flow in a shallow-water hydrothermal vent: Insights from a stable isotope approach

Date Published: October 17, 2018

Publisher: Public Library of Science

Author(s): Ni-Na Chang, Li-Hung Lin, Tzu-Hsuan Tu, Ming-Shiou Jeng, Yoshito Chikaraishi, Pei-Ling Wang, Vanesa Magar.


Shallow-water hydrothermal vent ecosystems are distinct from the deep-sea counterparts, because they are in receipt of sustenance from both chemosynthetic and photosynthetic production and have a lack of symbiosis. The trophic linkage and energy flow in these ecosystems, however remain elusive, which allows us poor understanding of the whole spectrum of biological components distributed across such environmental gradients. In this study, a thorough isotopic survey was conducted on various biological specimens and suspended particulates collected along four transects across the venting features of a shallow-water hydrothermal field off Kueishan Island, Taiwan. The isotope data combined with a Bayesian-based mixing model indicate that the vent-associated particulate organic matter (vent POM), as primary contribution of chemoautotrophic populations, has a high δ13C value (−18.2 ± 1.1‰) and a low δ15N value (−1.7 ± 0.4‰). Zooplankton and epibenthic crustaceans, as the fundamental consumers, exhibit δ13C and δ15N values ranging from −21.3 to −19.8‰ and +5.1 to +7.5‰, respectively, and can utilize the vent POM for 38–53% of their diets. The vent-obligate crab Xenograpsus testudinatus shows a large variation in δ13C (from −18.8 to −13.9‰) and δ15N values (from 1.1 to 9.8‰), although an omnivorous trophic level (2.5) is identified for it using δ15N values of amino acids, and it can utilize the vent POM for 6–87% of its diet. The consistently low (< 10.0‰) and overlapping δ15N values for most of the analyzed macroinvertebrates suggest extensive ingestion of chemosynthetic production complementing the photosynthetic production, a weak prey–predator relationship and low trophic complexity possibly imposed by the extreme environmental contexts of shallow-water hydrothermal ecosystems.

Partial Text

Studies of hydrothermal vent ecosystems distributed along mid-ocean ridges and back-arc spreading centers have greatly expanded our knowledge regarding the energy sources of marine communities. Unlike the vast majority of marine ecosystems sustained by photosynthetic primary production, benthic ecosystems associated with deep-sea hydrothermal vents are primarily driven by chemoautotrophic production that harvests metabolic energy from the oxidation of abundant reducing compounds (e.g., CH4, H2S, and NH4+) released from venting features [1,2]. The discharge of hot, reducing fluids into the cold, oxidized deep sea facilitates the generation of strong redox and temperature gradients, both of which favor the colonization of microbial communities possessing various physiological characteristics. These chemoautotrophic microbes efficiently sustain vent communities via bacteria–invertebrate symbioses or heterotrophic consumption, rendering deep-sea vent ecosystems analogous to oases in the desert [3]. Determining the energy flow would, therefore, provide an important basis to quantify the potential export of geothermal energy and chemical fluxes from vent ecosystems to the open ocean [4,5].




0 0 vote
Article Rating
Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments