MEPS 230:71-85 (2002)  -  doi:10.3354/meps230071

Fate of phytodetritus in marine sediments: functional importance of macrofaunal community

Alf B. Josefson1,*, Thomas L. Forbes1,**, Rutger Rosenberg2

1Department of Marine Ecology, National Environmental Research Institute, 4000 Roskilde, Denmark
2Department of Marine Ecology, Göteborg University, Kristineberg Marine Research Station, 450 34 Fiskebäckskil, Sweden
*E-mail: **Present address: Department of Biology, Adelphi University, Garden City, New York 11530, USA

ABSTRACT: A 54 d incubation of intact sediment box-cores from 2 different macrofaunal sediment communities from the Swedish west coast was performed under controlled laboratory conditions in April to June 1999. One community was dominated by passive suspension feeders the other by subsurface deposit feeders. The box-cores were seeded with 14C-labelled detritus of the diatom Skeletonema costatum in order to mimic a post-spring-bloom situation. In addition to the labelled diatom phytodetritus, the box-cosms initially contained chlorophyll a with concentrations between 1 and 1.5 µg ml-1 in the top cm of the sediment. The experiment thus provided an opportunity to estimate degradation rates of the naturally occurring chlorophyll with a natural benthic fauna present over a ca. 2 mo period. Using a diagenetic model to describe the vertical distribution of chlorophyll a (chl a), and using the same, previously published, degradation rate constant in both communities (0.03 d-1), gave mixing coefficients (DB, cm2 d-1) that were on average >2 times higher in the community (L18) dominated by deposit feeders than in the suspension-feeding community (S3): 2.5 ± SD 1.7 and 0.86 ± SD 0.50, respectively. This indicates a higher mixing rate at L18. This difference in mixing between the 2 communities was supported by changes in vertical distribution of 14C-labelled phytodetritus over the 54 d period. The mixing coefficients ( DBs) were positively correlated with biomass of subsurface deposit feeders but not with total biomass. Background chl a was higher at L18 than at S3. A quantitative comparison of the total chl a inventories at the start and end of the experiment suggested a low overall degradation rate (no significant overall change) in the chl a, far from the reaction rate constant of 0.03 d-1 often used in the literature. Similarly, the total 14C activity in the cosms did not change significantly over the study period, suggesting a small loss of 14CO2 from the cosms relative to the 14C-pool size. The labelled algal matter distributions showed clear mixing over the 2 months in both communities with a higher mixing rate in the deposit-feeding community than the suspension-feeding community. Mixing also occurred deeper in the deposit-feeding community. Uptake of labelled matter by macrofauna was similar in the 2 communities, but differed markedly between species and trophic groups. At the end of the incubation, surface deposit feeders had an order of magnitude higher weight-specific 14C activity than suspension feeders and subsurface deposit feeders. The proportion of macrofaunal uptake of total 14C activity in the cosms was small, on the order of 5%. The results support the idea that community species composition is important for the fate of sedimented phytodetritus and that macrofaunal influence on degradation of sedimentary chlorophyll is small at this time of the year. The initial fate of the bloom material was burial in the sediment rather than consumption by heterotrophs. The findings are thus in accordance with the hypothesis that a part of the spring phytoplankton bloom may be buried for a while in the sediment before being remineralised.

KEY WORDS: Phytodetritus · Bioturbation · Benthic community function · Tracer · Chlorophyll · Deposit-feeding

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