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Mass carbon dumps by gelatinous organisms

Gelatinous pelagic organisms deliver 20 times more carbon to depth in just two months, than an entire year of background sedimentation as recorded by sediment traps, according to a recent publication by Lebrato and Jones (2009) in Limnology and Oceanography.

The pelagic tunicate, Pyrosoma atlanticum, has been observed off the Ivory Coast in depths up to 1200 meters, accumulating on the seabed along pipelines. The mass dumps delivered 1 to more than 20 gC m-2 in less than 2 months, compared to 1.09 gC m-2 yr-1 at 696m as recorded by sediment traps (Wefer and Fischer, 1993).

Pyrosoma atlanticum has one of the highest pelagic clearance rates measured (values up to 35 l h-1, Perissinoto et al., 2007 read more), as well as the highest carbon content among studied gelatinous organisms, of 35% organic carbon of dry body weight (see also Davenport and Balasz 1991).

The role of pelagic, gelatinous filter-feeders in vertical carbon fluxes has long been suspected, but they have been largely overlooked in global carbon budgets and models due to sparse biogeographical data on biomass and lack of sufficient experimental data needed to parameterize their role in the vertical carbon flux.

Lebrato, M. and Jones, D.O.B., 2009. Mass deposition event of Pyrosoma atlanticum carcasses off Ivory Coast (West Africa). Limnology and Oceanography, 54, 1197-1209.

Billett, D.S.M., Bett, B.J., Jacobs, C.L., Rouse, I.P. and Wigham, B.D., 2006. Mass deposition of jellyfish in the deep Arabian Sea. Limnology and Oceanography, 51, (5), 2077-2083.

Perissinotto R, Mayzaud P*, Nichols PD, Labat JP 2007. Grazing of Pyrosoma atlanticum (Tunicata, Thaliacea) in the South Indian Ocean. Mar Ecol Prog Ser , 330: 1–11 (pdf)

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