Document Type

Article

Date of Original Version

2018

Abstract

Compound-specific stable isotopes of amino acids (CSI-AA) from proteinaceous deep-sea coral skeletons have the potential to improve paleoreconstructions of plankton community composition, and our understanding of the trophic dynamics and biogeochemical cycling of sinking organic matter in the Ocean. However, the assumption that the molecular isotopic values preserved in protein skeletal material reflect those of the living coral polyps has never been directly investigated in proteinaceous deep-sea corals. We examined CSI-AA from three genera of proteinaceous deep-sea corals from three oceanographically distinct regions of the North Pacific: Primnoa from the Gulf of Alaska, Isidella from the Central California Margin, and Kulamanamana from the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre. We found minimal offsets in the δ13C values of both essential and non-essential AAs, and in the δ15N values of source AAs, between paired samples of polyp tissue and protein skeleton. Using an essential AA δ13C fingerprinting approach, we show that estimates of the relative contribution of eukaryotic microalgae and prokaryotic cyanobacteria to the sinking organic matter supporting deep-sea corals are the same when calculated from polyp tissue or recently deposited skeletal tissue. The δ15N values of trophic AAs in skeletal tissue, on the other hand, were consistently 3–4‰ lower than polyp tissue for all three genera. We hypothesize that this offset reflects a partitioning of nitrogen flux through isotopic branch points in the synthesis of polyp (fast turnover tissue) and skeleton (slow, unidirectional incorporation). This offset indicates an underestimation, albeit correctable, of approximately half a trophic position from gorgonin protein-based deep-sea coral skeleton. Together, our observations open the door for applying many of the rapidly evolving CSI-AA based tools developed for metabolically active tissues in modern systems to archival coral tissues in a paleoceanographic context.

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