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Marine Ecology Progress Series

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MEPS 430:273-280 (2011)  -  DOI:

Where’s the ‘reef’? A five year study of serpulid tube bioerosion in a Scottish sea loch

David J. Hughes*

Scottish Association for Marine Science, Scottish Marine Institute, Oban, Argyll PA37 1QA, UK

ABSTRACT: In the British Isles, aggregations of the tubicolous polychaete Serpula vermicularis L. occur only in a few localities in western Scotland and Ireland. In Loch Creran, Argyll, where written observations extend back to the 1880s, build-ups of skeletal debris constituting a true reef framework are notably absent. To investigate the taphonomic processes affecting the residence time of relict tube material, cleaned and weighed skeletal fragments were deployed on panels amongst living worm aggregations. Fragments were either open to the environment or enclosed in mesh cylinders to exclude grazing urchins. Panels were recovered and fragments re-weighed after 1, 2, 3 and 5 yr in situ. Caged fragments typically increased in dry weight over time, while most open fragments remained at steady-state or showed small weight decreases. Change in weight was correlated with the number of living tubeworms which had settled onto the skeletal fragments. Open fragments showed no consistent temporal trend in weight change, suggesting that urchin grazing was not a major bioerosive process over the 5 yr experimental timescale. Data from another locality where serpulid aggregations suffered mass mortality between 1984 and 1994 show that tube debris can persist for at least 15 yr in sea loch environments. S. vermicularis aggregations in sea lochs may be ­relatively transient features, appearing and disappearing over decadal timescales.

KEY WORDS: Serpula vermicularis · Bioerosion · Reef · Sea loch · Taphonomy

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Cite this article as: Hughes DJ (2011) Where’s the ‘reef’? A five year study of serpulid tube bioerosion in a Scottish sea loch. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 430:273-280.

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