Spatial distribution of detrital resources determines the outcome of competition between bacteria and a facultative detritivorous worm

van Nugteren, Paul, Peter M. J. Herman, Leon Moodley, Jack J. Middelburg, Matthijs Vos, Carlo H. R. Heip

Limnol. Oceanogr., 54(5), 2009, 1413-1419 | DOI: 10.4319/lo.2009.54.5.1413

ABSTRACT: Macrobenthic deposit feeders and bacteria compete for the same detrital food resources. We hypothesize that the spatial scale at which food is distributed in the sediment is an important factor determining the outcome of this competition. Macrobenthic deposit feeders are better adapted for fast consumption of food in concentrated patches, whereas diluted food can only be exploited by bacteria. This hypothesis was tested in an experiment in which a fixed quantity of isotopically labeled algal detritus was offered to a natural bacterial community and the polychaete worm Nereis (=Hediste) diversicolor, either as a concentrated patch or mixed through the sediment matrix. Worms dominated food uptake in the concentrated treatment, while bacterial uptake was much greater in the diluted treatment. The experiment demonstrated scale-based niche differentiation between these taxonomically distant groups. It also showed that worms spatially redistributed food and made it available to bacteria in that way. Together, these mechanisms may stimulate stable co-existence through a scale-based partitioning of resources.

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