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Indications of low macrobenthic activity in the deep sediments of the eastern Mediterranean Sea
D. Basso, J. Thomson, C. Corselli

The fluxes and budget of organic matter from the oligotrophic surface waters of the eastern Mediterranean to the deep waters are poorly known, and little information is available on past and present macrobenthic activity on the sea floor. Evidence of macrobenthic activity can be direct, through recovery of living organisms or their autochthonous skeletal remains, or indirect, through bioturbation and trace fossils. The evidence of biological activity in deep eastern Mediterranean sediments has been evaluated and compared through 210Pb profiles from box-cores and study of dredge samples from sites on Medina Rise (1374 m water depth), the Messina Abyssal Plain (4135 m) and several sites along the Mediterranean Ridge, SW and S of Crete (1783 to 3655 m). All these sites are remote from the continental shelves, so the biological benthic activity is expected to depend primarily on primary production from surface waters. The results show that present-day macrobenthos and trace fossils are generally scarce, especially at depths >2500 m. This observation is supported by surface sediment 210Pbexcess distributions that show a surface mixed layer (SML) <6 cm deep in cores from water depths <2500 m and only 2-3 cm at greater depths, and estimated bioturbation intensities similarly fall off with water depth. These values are much lower than the average SML of ~10 cm in marine sediments elsewhere. It is unlikely that the present-day primary production in the eastern Mediterranean can sustain any structured macrobenthic activity at >2500 m. The historical layer of some box-cores and the Pleistocene hardgrounds collected in the Cleft area (Mediterranean Ridge) do, however, record a macrobenthic activity that is apparently more intense than at present, which may be related to higher primary production of the Pleistocene glacial intervals. In contrast with most areas of the present-day deep eastern Mediterranean which depend on surface primary production based on photosynthesis, a relatively dense and diversified macrobenthic community based on chemosynthesis has been recognised at depths >1100 m on the Napoli Dome mud volcano in the Olimpi area, and on the Kazan and other mud volcanoes in the Anaximander Mountains.

Keywords: deep macrobenthos, eastern Mediterranean, 210Pb profiles, surface mixed layer, trace fossils, chemosynthesis, sapropels, Pleistocene.
Contents of this volume Sci. Mar. 68(Suppl.3) : 53-62 Back PDF
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