Biological oceanography, biogeochemical cycles, and pelagic ecosystem functioning of the east central South Pacific Gyre: focus on Easter Island and Salas y Gomez Island
Latin American Journal of Aquatic Research
The Exclusive Economic Zone of Chile defined by Easter Island and Salas y Gómez Island is in the South Pacific Sub-tropical Gyre (SPSG), putting it at the center of the most oligotrophic and biomass poor waters in the world. Only 10 biological oceanographic expeditions have entered this zone in 105 years . We review key aspects of the plankton ecosystem and biogeochemical function relevant for the understanding of and conservation planning for marine environments. Plankton production is limited
... by lack of dissolved inorganic fixed nitrogen, not phosphorous. Higher organic nitrogen levels might be biologically unavailable. Short-term experiments suggested iron is not limiting, yet iron still likely limits nitrogen fixation, and thus production, at longer time scales, as the presence of nitrogen-fixers is exceptionally low compared to other ocean gyres. Plankton function is dominated by the smallest unicellular organisms, picoplankton (<3 µm in diameter). The SPSG represents a center of high biodiversity for picoplankton, as well as heterotrophic organisms such as tinntinids, siphonophores, and possibly amphipods, although data for key zooplankton, such as copepods, are lacking. Many groups exhibit negative relationships between diversity and total plankton biomass. High diversity might result from dispersal from a very large metacommunity and minimal competition within functional groups. Whether an island-mass effect causes a real or apparent increase in plankton biomass around Easter Island must be confirmed by high-resolution sampling in situ. Long-term threats to the planktonic ecosystem may include climate change-enhanced ocean stratification and plastic marine debris accumulation. Finally, priorities for future research are highlighted.