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Free Content Oxic and anoxic decomposition of tubes from the burrowing sea anemone Ceriantheopsis americanus: Implications for bulk sediment carbon and nitrogen balance

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Many marine infaunal animals form organic tube and burrow linings. The role of these materials in organic matter cycling and preservation in sediments is largely unknown. In the case examined here, the infaunal sea anemone, Ceriantheopsis americanus, (a common component of bottom communities along the east coast of North America) forms a leathery, fibrous tube lining 2–3 mm thick, ∼1 cm in diameter, and typically extending 20–30 cm into deposits. Tube fibers (∼2 mm long, 2–5 m thick) formed from discharged specialized nematocyst cells, ptychocysts, are composed of a silk-like protein copolymer, cerianthin. Tubes incubated under oxic and anoxic conditions over a period of 122 days demonstrate that initial rates of whole tube decay are 10–100 times slower than usually found for fresh planktonic debris and aquatic macrophytes despite a relatively low molar C:N ratio of ∼5.1. First order decomposition rate constants in oxic water, anoxic water and anoxic sediment are ∼0.76, ∼0.41 and ∼0.22 yr–1 for particulate tube carbon and ∼0.2, ∼0.1 and ∼0.1 yr–1 for particulate nitrogen, respectively (20°C). There are no obvious (under SEM) morphological changes in tube fibers during initial tube decomposition, implying slower long term rates. Although slow, tube decomposition stimulates bacterial activity in sediments from below ∼10 cm depth where any organic matter present is even more refractory than the tubes themselves. In central Long Island Sound muds, tubes apparenlly account for a minimum of ∼0.6–1.8% and 2.8–8.4% of the steady state C and N detrital pools in the upper 10–30 cm of the sediment. C. americanus tube production apparently accounts for ∼9% of the average particulate carbon and ∼12% of the nitrogen fluxes to the benthos. Tube construction by infaunal benthos may thus represent an important pathway for refractory compound formation and organic matter preservation.

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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: August 1, 1991

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  • The Journal of Marine Research, one of the oldest journals in American marine science, publishes peer-reviewed research articles covering a broad array of topics in physical, biological and chemical oceanography. Articles that deal with processes, as well as those that report significant observations, are welcome. Biological studies involving coupling between ecological and physical processes are preferred over those that report systematics. The editors strive always to serve authors and readers in the academic oceanographic community by publishing papers vital to the marine research in the long and rich tradition of the Sears Foundation for Marine Research. We welcome you to the Journal of Marine Research.
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