Zooplankton vertical migration and the active transport of dissolved organic and inorganic carbon in the Sargasso

Author(s): Steinberg DK, Carlson CA, Bates NR, Goldthwait SA, Madin LP, et al.


The least known component of the “biological pump” is the active transport of carbon and nutrients by diel vertical migration of zooplankton. We measured CO2 respiration and dissolved organic carbon (DOC) excretion by individual species of common vertically migrating zooplankton at the US JGOFS Bermuda Atlantic Time-series Study (BATS) station. The inclusion of DOC excretion in this study builds on published research on active transport by respiration of inorganic carbon and allows a direct assessment of the role of zooplankton in the production of dissolved organic matter used in midwater microbial processes. On average, excretion of DOC makes up 24% (range=5–42%) of the total C metabolized (excreted+respired) and could represent a significant augmentation to the vertical flux that has already been documented for respiratory CO2 flux by migrant zooplankton. Migratory fluxes were compared to other transport processes at BATS. Estimates of combined active transport of CO2 and DOC by migrators at BATS averaged 7.8% and reached 38.6% of mean sinking POC flux at 150 m, and reached 71.4% of mean sinking POC flux at 300 m. DOC export by migrator excretion averaged 1.9% and reached 13.3% of annual DOC export by physical mixing at this site. During most of the year when deep mixing does not occur, diel migration by zooplankton could provide a supply of DOC to the deeper layers that is available for use by the microbial community. A carbon budget comparing migrant zooplankton transport to the balance of fluxes in the 300–600 m depth strata at BATS shows on average that the total migrant flux supplies 37% of the organic carbon remineralized in this layer, and that migrant DOC flux is more than 3 times the DOC flux gradient by diapycnal mixing. New estimates of active transport of both organic and inorganic carbon by migrants may help resolve observed imbalances in the C budget at BATS, but the magnitude is highly dependent on the biomass of the migrating community.

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