The effects of decomposing invasive jellyfish on biogeochemical fluxes and microbial dynamics in an ultra-oligotrophic sea

Over the past several decades, jellyfish blooms have intensified spatially and temporally, affecting functions and services of ecosystems worldwide. At the demise of a bloom, an enormous amount of jellyfish biomass sinks to the seabed and decomposes. This process entails reciprocal microbial and biogeochemical changes, typically enriching the water column and seabed with large amounts of organic and inorganic nutrients. Jellyfish decomposition was hypothesized to be particularly important in nutrient-impoverished ecosystems, such as the Eastern Mediterranean Sea – one of the most oligotrophic marine regions in the world. Since the 1970s, this region has been experiencing the proliferation of a notorious invasive scyphozoan jellyfish, Rhopilema nomadica. In this study, we estimated the short-term decomposition effects of R. nomadica on nutrient dynamics at the sediment-water interface. Our results show that the degradation of R. nomadica has led to increased oxygen demand and acidification of overlying water as well as high rates of dissolved organic nitrogen and phosphate production. These conditions favored heterotrophic microbial activity and bacterial biomass accumulation, and triggered a shift towards heterotrophic biodegrading bacterial communities, whereas autotrophic picophytoplankton abundance was moderately affected or reduced. This shift may further decrease primary production in the water column of the Eastern Mediterranean Sea. Deoxygenation, acidification, nutrient enrichment, and microbial community shifts at the sediment-water interface may have a detrimental impact on macrobenthic communities. Based on these findings, we suggest that jelly-falls and their decay may facilitate an additional decline in ecosystem functions and services.

Guy-Haim T., Rubin-Blum M., Rahav E., Belkin N., Silverman J. & Sisma-Ventura G., 2020. The effects of decomposing invasive jellyfish on biogeochemical fluxes and microbial dynamics in an ultra-oligotrophic sea. Biogeosciences 17(22): 5489–5511, Article.

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