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Marine Ecology Progress Series

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MEPS 202:81-99 (2000)  -  doi:10.3354/meps202081

Effects of dissolved oxygen and fresh organic matter on the bioturbation potential of macrofauna in sublittoral sediments off Central Chile during the 1997/1998 El Niño

Dimitri Gutiérrez1,*, Víctor A. Gallardo1, Sergio Mayor1, Carlos Neira2, Cristian Vásquez1, Javier Sellanes1, Marcelo Rivas1, Aldo Soto1, Franklin Carrasco1, Mario Baltazar1

1Departamento de Oceanografía (Programa FONDAP-Humboldt), Universidad de Concepción, Casilla 160-C, 40831 Concepción, Chile
2Institute für Chemie und Biologie des Meeres, Universität Oldenburg, Postfach 2503, 26111 Oldenburg, Germany

ABSTRACT: A study off Concepción, central Chile, during the 1997/1998 El Niño (EN) revealed that the concentration of dissolved oxygen and the organic content and quality of the sediment control the vertical distribution of macrofauna in the sediment and bioturbation potential. The study area, characterized by organic-rich, silty sediments, lies within the most intense upwelling center off the coast of Chile, and is subject to the seasonal influx of hypoxic subsurface waters. Five stations (28 to 120 m depth) were sampled seasonally. The vertical distribution and integrated biomass and abundance of macrofauna (>0.5 mm) were determined, as well as the dissolved oxygen content of the bottom water (BWDO) and sediment parameters such as total organic carbon (TOC), the C/N ratio, sulphide content, chl a content, and the thickness of the oxidized zone. Chl a proved to be a good indicator of fresh (high-quality) organic matter. Major components contributing to variation in the macrofauna feeding guilds, bioturbation categories, and their vertical position in the sediment were: (1) the relative bioturbation potential (contribution of bioturbating taxa to the assemblage) and (2) the vertical distribution and ratio of surface-to subsurface deposit-feeders. Higher levels of BWDO and a lower quality of organic matter at the sediment surface tended to provide better conditions for potentially strong bioturbators, while lower BWDO levels and higher-quality organic matter were accompanied by the dominance of tube-dwelling, surface-defecating (and hence weakly bioturbating) species. Higher TOC levels and lower-quality organic matter at the surface resulted in deeper vertical distributions of animals and a higher relative abundance of subsurface deposit-feeders. During the study period, BWDO levels increased, while the total organic carbon and the quality of organic matter decreased. These conditions encouraged the vertical penetration of macrofauna into the sediment column and the relatively larger contribution of stronger bioturbators to the assemblage. The most drastic changes in faunal lifestyles and vertical distribution during the 1997/1998 EN were observed within the Bay of Concepción, an area usually characterized by sulphidic sediments under the conditions of severe seasonal hypoxia or anoxia obtaining during Œnormal¹ (i.e. non-EN) years; and in the deepest shelf site, which usually experiences permanent hypoxia because of the influence of the Œoxygen minimum zone¹.

KEY WORDS: Bioturbation potential · Vertical distribution · Benthos · El Niño · Fresh organic matter · Hypoxia · Central Chile · Sublittoral

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