MEPS 440:95-103 (2011)  -  doi:10.3354/meps09332

Macrobenthos abundance and distribution on a spatially patterned intertidal flat

Ellen J. Weerman1,2,3,*, Peter M. J. Herman1, Johan van de Koppel1

1Centre for Estuarine and Marine Ecology, Netherlands Institute of Ecology (NIOO-KNAW), PO Box 40, 4400 AC Yerseke, The Netherlands
2Aquatic Ecology and Ecotoxicology (IBED), University of Amsterdam, PO Box 94240, 1090 GE Amsterdam, The Netherlands
3Present address: University of Groningen, Community and Conservation Ecology Group, PO BOX 11103, 9700 CC Groningen, The Netherlands

ABSTRACT: Natural ecosystems can show regular spatial vegetation patterns, which develop from small-scale ecological interactions. Some studies suggest that grazers can play a major role in controlling vegetation distribution in ecosystems with regular vegetation patterns, but the distribution of grazers and the effects of grazing on vegetation in spatially patterned ecosystems remains poorly understood. Here, we study how macrofaunal grazers are distributed on a spatially patterned intertidal flat and how they interact with benthic microalgae. The study was carried out on an intertidal flat where each year a regular spatial pattern of diatom-covered hummocks and water-filled hollows develops. In 2 consecutive years, benthic algal biomass was 5-fold lower in the hollows compared with the hummocks, whereas benthic macrofauna was equally abundant on both hummocks and hollows. In the laboratory we evaluated the interactive effect of landscape morphology (hummocks and hollows) and food abundance. Experiments with 2 abundant grazers, Corophium volutator and Hydrobia ulvae showed that food availability was the main driver for the spatial distribution of benthic herbivores rather than landscape morphology. Laboratory experiments, where we analyzed the grazing effects of H. ulvae and C. volutator on benthic algal biomass, revealed that both species increased biomass-specific primary production. This could indicate that benthic grazers can stimulate algal growth, which may explain the high grazer abundances in nearly bare hollows. Increased production of benthic algae may be a key factor uncoupling herbivore density from benthic algal biomass on a spatially patterned intertidal flat.

KEY WORDS: Corophium volutator · Hydrobia ulvae · Microphytobenthos · Intertidal flats · Landscape morphology

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Cite this article as: Weerman EJ, Herman PMJ, van de Koppel J (2011) Macrobenthos abundance and distribution on a spatially patterned intertidal flat. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 440:95-103

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