The effects of infaunal biodiversity on biogeochemistry of coastal marine sediments

Waldbusser, George G., Roberta L. Marinelli, Robert B. Whitlatch, Pieter T. Visscher

Limnol. Oceanogr., 49(5), 2004, 1482-1492 | DOI: 10.4319/lo.2004.49.5.1482

ABSTRACT: We tested the role of benthic infaunal functional diversity in regulating the biogeochemistry of nearshore sediments using laboratory microcosms. Single and multispecies assemblages of deposit-feeding polychaetes (Clymenella torquata, Spio setosa, and Leitoscoloplos fragilis) were used, and fluxes of oxygen and phosphate, as well as profiles of oxygen and pH in the sediment pore water, were measured. Significant differences in flux rates were found among treatments that were unrelated to polychaete abundance or biomass alone. Multispecies assemblages had lower flux rates of both oxygen and phosphate than rates calculated from the single-species treatments. Depth integrated oxygen and pH profiles also showed significant differences between multispecies assemblages and selected single-species treatments. These differences were most likely from species-specific feeding and burrowing behavior and species-related interactions. Coefficients of variance for both oxygen and pH were highest for microcosms with no polychaetes and lowest for the assemblages, indicating a dampening effect of multispecies assemblages on porewater heterogeneity. When oxygen flux data was incorporated into a model of oxygen dynamics in Long Island Sound, results indicated that shifts in the benthic community composition could change sediment oxygen consumption rates sufficiently to disrupt the balance between the physical supply of oxygenated water and biological oxygen demand. The results of this study confirm the importance of benthic functional biodiversity to nearshore sedimentary processes and suggest that losses of functional diversity can have significant effects on ecosystem function.

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