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Marine Ecology Progress Series

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MEPS 372:31-42 (2008)  -  DOI:

Macrobenthic recovery from hypoxia in an estuarine tidal mudflat

C. Van Colen1,*, F. Montserrat2,3, M. Vincx1, P. M. J. Herman2, T. Ysebaert2, S. Degraer1,4

1Ghent University, Department of Biology, Marine Biology Section, Krijgslaan 281/S8, 9000 Ghent, Belgium
2Netherlands Institute for Ecological Research (NIOO-KNAW), Centre for Estuarine and Marine Ecology, PO Box 140,
4400 AC Yerseke, The Netherlands
3Delft University of Technology, Faculty of Civil Engineering and Geosciences, Hydraulics Section, PO Box 5048,
2600 GA Delft, The Netherlands
4Management Unit of the Mathematical Model of the North Sea, Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences, Gulledelle 100,
1200 Brussels, Belgium

ABSTRACT: Macrobenthic recolonisation patterns after complete defaunation resulting from experimentally induced hypoxia were investigated in a polyhaline, estuarine mudflat. Based on simultaneous sampling of biotic and environmental variables in replicated 16 m2 control and defaunated plots, with a high resolution in time during 6 mo, the ecological interactions related to the macrobenthos reassembly were elucidated. Colonisation was predominantly determined by juvenile recruitment, and 3 successional stages were identified, each characterised by different species assemblages and environmental characteristics. During recovery, a shift in functional group dominance from mobile surface deposit feeders to tube-dwelling surface deposit feeders to biodestabilising taxa occurred, while their proportional dominance remained quite stable in the control plots throughout the experiment. Species colonisation patterns of later colonists revealed positive interactions with early colonising opportunistic tube-building polychaetes Pygospio elegans, while later successional species (Heteromastus filiformis, Macoma balthica) adversely affected the stable, favourable conditions created by the tube-building infauna. Transitions between different successional stages were related to recruitment of species, changes in environmental characteristics (oxygenation state of the sediment), direct and indirect ecological interactions (bio[de]stabilisation, exploitation competition for food). In general, our study suggests that macrobenthic reassembly after hypoxia is related to different types of interactions, all acting in a unique manner. Hence, macrobenthic successional dynamics in a tidal mudflat habitat should be considered as a dynamic process, related to resource availability, natural temporal variation, life history traits (e.g. opportunistic behaviour) and bio-engineering capacities of the colonising species.

KEY WORDS: Macrobenthos (re)colonisation · Succession · Physical–biological interactions · Exploitation competition for food · Tidal mudflat · Westerschelde estuary

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Cite this article as: Van Colen C, Montserrat F, Vincx M, Herman PMJ, Ysebaert T, Degraer S (2008) Macrobenthic recovery from hypoxia in an estuarine tidal mudflat. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 372:31-42.

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