Temperature effects on carbon mineralization of sinking copepod carcasses

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Copepod carcasses are prevalent in marine ecosystems and might represent an important component of the sinking flux of particulate organic carbon in the ocean. The extent to which copepod carcasses contribute to the biological carbon pump is controlled by different environmental factors, including temperature. However, the effect of temperature on the longer-term kinetics of carbon mineralization of copepod carcasses is not well-studied. We conducted laboratory experiments to quantify the carbon mineralization associated with sinking carcasses of the cosmopolitan copepod Acartia tonsa through aerobic microbial respiration at 5 temperatures (20, 16, 12, 8, and 4°C). Microbial respiration rates associated with the carcasses were positively correlated with temperature and characterized by an initial short lag-phase, a rapid increase to a maximum rate, and a subsequent gradual decline in the rate of degradation. On average, 50% of the total carbon of the carcasses was mineralized within 6-12 d at 20°C, versus >60 d at 4°C. During the incubations, most carbon mineralization occurred in the ambient seawater, likely fueled by dissolved organic carbon leaking from the carcasses into the surrounding seawater. Extrapolating measured carbon turnover and sinking rates suggests that at 20°C, the mineralization of sinking copepod carcasses is constrained to the surface ocean. In contrast, at 4°C, sinking copepod carcasses can reach the deep ocean before they have been completely degraded. Hence, in lowtemperature regions, copepod carcasses may represent an important agent for carbon export through the biological carbon pump.

Original languageEnglish
JournalMarine Ecology Progress Series
Pages (from-to)31-45
Publication statusPublished - 25. Nov 2021


  • Biological carbon pump
  • Marine snow
  • Copepods
  • Acartia tonsa
  • Temperature
  • Oxygen
  • Carbon
  • Degradation
  • Respiration


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