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Functional trait responses to sediment deposition reduce macrofauna-mediated ecosystem functioning in an estuarine mudflat
Mestdagh, S.; Bagaço, L.; Braeckman, U.; Ysebaert, T.; De Smet, B.; Moens, T.; van Colen, C.; De Smet, B. (2018). Functional trait responses to sediment deposition reduce macrofauna-mediated ecosystem functioning in an estuarine mudflat. Biogeosciences 15(9): 2587-2599. https://doi.org/10.5194/bg-15-2587-2018
In: Gattuso, J.P.; Kesselmeier, J. (Ed.) Biogeosciences. Copernicus Publications: Göttingen. ISSN 1726-4170; e-ISSN 1726-4189, more
Peer reviewed article  

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Keywords
    Marine; Brackish water; Fresh water

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Abstract
    Human activities, among which dredging and land use change in river basins, are altering estuarine ecosystems. These activities may result in changes in sedimentary processes, affecting biodiversity of sediment macrofauna. As macrofauna controls sediment chemistry and fluxes of energy and matter between water column and sediment, changes in the structure of macrobenthic communities could affect the functioning of an entire ecosystem. We assessed the impact of sediment deposition on intertidal macrobenthic communities and on rates of an important ecosystem function, i.e. sediment community oxygen consumption (SCOC). An experiment was performed with undisturbed sediment samples from the Scheldt river estuary (SW Netherlands). The samples were subjected to four sedimentation regimes: one control and three with a deposited sediment layer of 1, 2 or 5 cm. Oxygen consumption was measured during incubation at ambient temperature. Luminophores applied at the surface, and a seawater–bromide mixture, served as tracers for bioturbation and bio-irrigation, respectively. After incubation, the macrofauna was extracted, identified, and counted and then classified into functional groups based on motility and sediment reworking capacity. Total macrofaunal densities dropped already under the thinnest deposits. The most affected fauna were surficial and low-motility animals, occurring at high densities in the control. Their mortality resulted in a drop in SCOC, which decreased steadily with increasing deposit thickness, while bio-irrigation and bioturbation activity showed increases in the lower sediment deposition regimes but decreases in the more extreme treatments. The initial increased activity likely counteracted the effects of the drop in low-motility, surficial fauna densities, resulting in a steady rather than sudden fall in oxygen consumption. We conclude that the functional identity in terms of motility and sediment reworking can be crucial in our understanding of the regulation of ecosystem functioning and the impact of habitat alterations such as sediment deposition.

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