Deep sea sediments are low-nutrient environments, where organic material rains down slowly from the surface ocean.   However, a sunken whale carcass can deliver an enormous pulse of labile nutrients to the underlying sediments, the equivalent to roughly 2000 years of background organic carbon flux (Smith and Baco, 2003). 


What is the fate of that carbon influx?


How do bacterial and archaeal communities respond to this natural perturbation experiment? 


In collaboration with Victoria Orphan, Shana Goffredi and scientists at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI), we are examining sediment samples from four different natural and experimentally-implanted whalefalls across Monterey Bay. 


These remarkable samples span the time from just two months post-whalefall (in the case of the experimental sites) to 13 years later when little evidence of the giants remains visible at the surface.   


Our project aims to quantify changes in bacterial and archaeal community structure and geochemistry at these sites over time, and assess whether there exist reproducible patterns of succession in response to this perturbation. 


This work complements MBARI’s previous time-series studies of macrofauna at these sites, and offers the opportunity to integrate our ecological analysis across the micro-macro divide.   

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Department of Ecology, Evolution & Marine Biology | UC Santa Barbara | Santa Barbara, CA 93106-9620