Temporal variability and the relationship between benthic meiofaunal and microbial populations of a natural coastal petroleum seep
Montagna, Paul A.
Bauer, James E.
Spies, Robert B.
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Previous studies of the Isla Vista petroleum seep in the Santa Barbara Channel found much higher abundances of macrofauna and concentrations of adenosine triphosphate (ATP) in sediments near petroleum seepage compared to those from nonseep areas. To further assess the possible effect of petroleum on organisms at the base of benthic food webs, population abundances of meiobenthos and their suspected microbial food (bacteria and diatoms) were measured biweekly for one year at three stations with differing petroleum exposure. Determinations of suspended particulate matter and the abundance and gut contents of juvenile fishes were also made at seep and nonseep stations.Nematodes and bacteria had higher abundances in areas of active petroleum seepage than in areas of moderate seepage (within 20 m) or no seepage (1.4 km away). Bacterial productivity (based on the frequency of dividing cells) was 340% greater in sediments from areas of active seepage compared to those from a nonseep station. Sediments within the seep, but away from active seepage, had rates of bacterial productivity 15 times greater than a nonseep comparison site. Densities of harpacticoid copepods and their probable principal food, diatoms, were not affected by petroleum seepage. Suspended organic matter caught in settling traps was not different between seep and nonseep stations. In addition, there was no evidence that predation pressure by juvenile fish on meiofauna was different between stations.The higher bacterial biomass and productivity in areas of petroleum seepage are consistent with the hypothesis that petroleum carbon is available for assimilation by sediment bacteria. The enhanced level of microbial carbon associated with the petroleum seep is available for consumption by benthic invertebrates and could explain the higher abundances of macrofauna and meiofauna found there.