Antarctic krill as a source of dissolved organic carbon to the Antarctic ecosystem

Sergio Ruiz-Halpern, Carlos M. Duarte, Antonio Tovar-Sanchez, Marcos Pastor, Burkhard Horstkotte, Sebastien Lasternas and Susana Agustí

Limnol. Oceanogr., 56(2), 2011, 521-528 | DOI: 10.4319/lo.2011.56.2.0521

ABSTRACT: The role of krill as a source of dissolved organic matter in the Southern Ocean was tested through a series of experiments performed around the Antarctic Peninsula. These experiments revealed high but variable release rates of dissolved material (carbon and nutrients), supplying, on average, 150 mmol dissolved organic carbon (DOC) m−2 d−1, which is comparable with that supported by phytoplankton. Krill support, on average, 73% of the combined krill + phytoplankton production of DOC in the ecosystem, implying the importance of krill in conditioning the productivity of the Southern Ocean. However, the contribution of krill as a source of DOC varied greatly because of the patchy distribution of both krill and primary producers in the region, ranging from 98% to 10% of the combined (krill + phytoplankton) DOC release rates. These results suggest that rapid decline in krill standing stocks associated with reduced ice cover may have major consequences for microbial communities in the ecosystem, since bacterial carbon demand often exceeds the DOC supplied by phytoplankton in coastal areas of the Southern Ocean, with potential unforeseen consequences in the carbon balance of the Southern Ocean.

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