Hydrothermal activity lowers trophic diversity in Antarctic hydrothermal sediments
Hydrothermal sediments are those in which hydrothermal fluid is discharged through sediments and are one of the least studied deep-sea ecosystems. We present a combination of microbial and biochemical data to assess trophodynamics between and within hydrothermal and background areas of the Bransfield Strait (1050–1647 m of depth). Microbial composition, biomass, and fatty acid signatures varied widely between and within hydrothermally active and background sites, providing evidence of diverse metabolic activity. Several species had different feeding strategies and trophic positions between hydrothermally active and inactive areas, and the stable isotope values of consumers were not consistent with feeding morphology. Niche area and the diversity of microbial fatty acids was lowest at the most hydrothermally active site, reflecting trends in species diversity. Faunal uptake of chemosynthetically produced organics was relatively limited but was detected at both hydrothermal and non-hydrothermal sites, potentially suggesting that hydrothermal activity can affect trophodynamics over a much wider area than previously thought.