Not to be sneezed at: does pollen from forests of exotic pine affect deep oceanic trench ecosystems?
Pollen is ubiquitous in nearshore marine sediments; however, its potential importance for food-limited deep-seabed communities remains unknown. Here we report on the distribution of pollen to depths of 10,800 m in two Southwest Pacific trenches, as well as relationships between pollen concentrations and the sediment fauna. Pine (Pinus radiata) pollen, most likely originating from extensive plantations in New Zealand, was common in all sediment samples. These pine plantations may have altered the flux of terrestrially derived organic matter to vast stretches of the deep sea, with potential consequences for carbon sequestration and food availability. There was a significant, positive correlation between pine pollen and the abundance of infauna, which were greatest at the 7000-m-deep site in the Kermadec Trench and 10,800-m site in the Tonga Trench. This finding, together with the occurrence of pine pollen in unicellular organisms (gromiids), shows for the first time that pollen may represent food source for deep-sea benthic organisms.