MEPS 341:177-190 (2007)  -  doi:10.3354/meps341177

Effects of the dominant SW Atlantic intertidal burrowing crab Chasmagnathus granulatus on sediment chemistry and nutrient distribution

Eugenia Fanjul1,*, María A. Grela2, Oscar Iribarne1

1Departamento de Biología (FCEyN) (CONICET), Universidad Nacional de Mar del Plata, CC 573 Correo Central, B7600WAG, Mar del Plata, Argentina
2Departamento de Química (FCEyN) (CONICET), Universidad Nacional de Mar del Plata, Funes 3350, Mar del Plata, Argentina

ABSTRACT: Through field experiments and chemical analysis of the sediment and pore water, we investigated the effect of the burrowing crab Chasmagnathus granulatus on the distribution and availability of electron acceptors in mudflat sediments. The results show that the presence and activity of C. granulatus and its burrows determine the chemical characteristics of pore water and the redox state of mudflat sediments. Crabs enhance the transport of particulate material in the sediment column, completely mixing the upper 7 cm of sediment in a few days. Comparative analyses of pore water from areas (1) with crabs and burrows, (2) with unoccupied burrows, and (3) without burrows or crabs reveal a large increase in sediment oxygenation, modification of pore water salinity and the distribution of dissolved inorganic nitrogen and sulphate when crabs are present. Denitrification and organic matter (OM) degradation rates were estimated by a diagenetic model that searches for simultaneous agreement between measured and model-calculated depth profiles. OM degradation rates (kG) were found to be greater in bioturbated (kG = 10.6 ± 6.1 [SD] µM s–1) than in non-bioturbated sediments (kG = 4.9 ± 17.8 µM s–1 if unoccupied burrows were present; kG = 0.02 ± 0.013 µM s–1 without burrows). Model-estimated denitrification rates revealed that OM degradation pathways are also affected by C. granulatus activities and their burrows. These changes in the sediment chemistry that are directly and indirectly produced by C. granulatus could comprise the force that drives the pathways of microbial processes and nutrient flows to neighbouring systems.

KEY WORDS: Biogeochemistry · Bioturbation · Chasmagnathus granulatus · Intertidal sediments

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