Copepod faecal pellet transfer through the meso- and bathypelagic layers in the Southern Ocean in spring
The faecal pellets (FP) of zooplankton can be important vehicles for the transfer of particulate organic carbon (POC) to the deep ocean, often making large contributions to carbon sequestration. However, the routes by which these FP reach the deep ocean have yet to be fully resolved. We address this by comparing estimates of FP production to measurements of FP size, shape and number in the upper mesopelagic (175–205 m), using Marine Snow Catchers, and in the bathypelagic, using sediment traps (1,500–2,000 m). The study is focussed on the Scotia Sea, which contains some of the most productive regions in the Southern Ocean, where epipelagic FP production is likely to be high. We found that, although the size distribution of zooplankton suggests that high numbers of small FP are produced in the epipelagic, small FP are rare in the deeper layers, implying that they are not transferred efficiently to depth. Consequently, small FP make only a minor contribution to FP fluxes in the meso- and bathypelagic, particularly in terms of carbon. The dominant FP in the upper mesopelagic were cylindrical and elliptical, while ovoid FP were dominant in the bathypelagic. The change in FP morphology, as well as size distribution, points to the repacking of surface FP in the mesopelagic and in situ production in the lower meso- and bathypelagic, augmented by inputs of FP via zooplankton vertical migrations. The flux of carbon to the deeper layers within the Southern Ocean is therefore strongly modulated by meso- and bathypelagic zooplankton, meaning that the community structure in these zones has a major impact on the efficiency of FP transfer to depth.