MEPS 288:151-164 (2005)  -  doi:10.3354/meps288151

Benthic nutrient fluxes along an estuarinegradient: influence of the pinnid bivalve Atrina zelandica in summer

M. Gibbs1,*, G. Funnell1, S. Pickmere1, A. Norkko2, J. Hewitt1

1National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research Ltd., PO Box 11-115, Hamilton, New Zealand
2Department of Marine Ecology, Göteborg University, Kristineberg Marine Research Station, 45034 Fiskebäckskil, Sweden

ABSTRACT: Benthic nutrient fluxes (BNF) can supply 30 to 100% of the nutrient requirements of benthic and pelagic algae in an estuary, and can, thus, potentially sustain benthic and pelagic primary production within the estuarine food web. While BNF can be influenced by microbial processes, epibenthic suspension-feeding bivalves have the potential to alter fluxes by their influence on the community composition of surrounding macrofauna and benthic boundary conditions, and their feeding activities. In Mahurangi Harbour, New Zealand, the large suspension feeding pinnid Atrina zelandica (hereafter referred to as Atrina) occupies large areas of the harbour floor. Consequently, Atrina have the potential to substantially influence the BNF and, thus, primary production, and the food supply to the filter feeding community within the harbour, including the rack-farmed Pacific oyster aquaculture industry. Mahurangi Harbour is almost always isohaline, but exhibits a strong gradient in suspended sediment concentration, which declines from head to mouth. As Atrina increase their rate of pseudofaeces production with increases in suspended sediment concentration, we conducted in situ light and dark paired benthic chamber experiments with and without Atrina at 4 stations along this turbidity gradient, to determine their effect on BNF. Our results showed substantially greater BNF from Atrina beds than bare sediments. We also found greater net BNF (difference between Atrina beds and bare sediment) in the less turbid water under dark conditions, but enhanced water column nutrient supply in the more turbid water in light, due to Atrina excretion of ammoniacal nitrogen (NH4-N). On an areal basis, we estimate that BNF from Atrina beds may account for up to 80% of the nutrient supply for pelagic primary production and, thus, they are of major importance to the sustainability of aquaculture in this harbour.

KEY WORDS: Benthic nutrient flux · Benthic chambers · Estuarine turbidity gradient · Atrina zelandica · Microphytobenthos

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