Sedimentary, deep-sea communities include megafaunal animals (e.g., sea cucumbers, brittle stars, crabs) and demersal fishes, collectively termed the large, motile epifauna (LME). Individuals of the LME are common, and their biomass approximates that of the macrofauna. Based on analogies with shallow-water animals, they are likely to be sources of mortality for the infauna and to create spatial and temporal heterogeneity in the community. Given present theories of deep-sea community organization, such effects could be important. Unfortunately, this hypothesis has not been tested because of the difficulty of conducting experiments in the deep sea and because tools for manipulating the LME have not been developed. We studied the suitability of exclusion cages for this purpose at 780 m depth in San Diego Trough. We placed 16 cages of two mesh sizes for 4.5 months over regions of the seafloor that appeared free of LME. Time-lapse photographs of a cage and a control plot coupled with observations of all cages at the end of the experiment indicated that small (1.27-cm × 1.27-cm square)-mesh cages were effective at excluding LME. Further, the cages were essentially free of cage artifacts that have been reported in shallow-water studies. Large, mobile and disruptive animals (e.g., fishes, crabs) did not establish long-term residence adjacent to or on the cages. Bio-fouling slightly reduced the open surface area of the cage mesh, potentially reducing flow through the cage, but the composition of surface sediments in terms of organic C and N, phytoplankton-derived pigments, and grain size was indistinguishable between cages and control areas. Activities of excess 234Th were significantly higher (average = 37%) inside of small-mesh cages, which might suggest enhanced particulate deposition inside cages. However, this measurement was an artifact of experimental manipulation. Particles that accumulated on the cage during the experiment were dislodged and settled to the seafloor when the cage was opened just prior to sampling. These particles would have been highly enriched in 234Th, and their inclusion in core samples artificially inflated the calculated sediment accumulation rates inside cages. Therefore, the cages performed well; they excluded the targeted LME without causing artifacts and thus should be useful for experimental study of a group of animals that may have substantial impact on the structure and organization of deep-sea communities.
Eckman, James E., David Thistle, William C. Burnett, Gordon L. Paterson, Charles Y. Robertson, and P. J. D. Lambshead. 2001. "Performance of cages as large animal-exclusion devices in the deep sea." Journal of Marine Research 59, (1). https://elischolar.library.yale.edu/journal_of_marine_research/2384