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Marine Ecology Progress Series

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MEPS 540:57-71 (2015)  -  DOI: https://doi.org/10.3354/meps11478

Combined engineering effects of clams and crabs on infaunal assemblages and food availability in intertidal systems

M. Fernanda Alvarez1,2,*, Mariana Addino1,3, Oscar Iribarne1, Florencia Botto1

1Laboratorio de Ecología, Instituto de Investigaciones Marinas y Costeras (IIMyC), Consejo Nacional de Investigaciones Científicas y Técnicas (CONICET), Universidad Nacional de Mar del Plata (UNMdP), Dean Funes 3350 - CP 7600, Argentina
2Present address: Laboratorio Cuenca del Salado, Instituto de Limnología “Dr. Raúl A. Ringuelet” (ILPLA-CONICET), Universidad Nacional de La Plata (UNLP), Boulevar 120 no. 1460- CP 1900, Argentina
3Present address: Grupo de Ecología y Paleoecología de Ambientes Acuáticos Continentales (IIMyC-CONICET-UNMdP), Dean Funes 3350 - CP 7600, Argentina
*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: In soft sediments, ecosystem engineers (EEs) may play key roles in modifying habitats and therefore affecting bottom-assemblage species. In the southwestern Atlantic mud flats, 2 EEs coexist: the stout razor clam Tagelus plebeius and the burrowing crab Neohelice (Chasmagnathus) granulata. Clams create small depressions (i.e. millimeters), while crabs build large burrows (i.e. centimeters) generating crab beds covering many hectares. We hypothesized that these differences in the bioturbation scale may have different consequences for infaunal assemblages. We found that (1) microscale sediment-surface heterogeneities created by clams (e.g. holes and surrounding depressions) were related to higher organic-matter content and microphytobenthic biomass (measured as chlorophyll a), (2) abundances of meiofaunal groups (copepods, ostracods, and nematodes) were higher in clam holes than outside at all tidal levels, and (3) habitats with a more heterogeneous structure—such as clam holes inside a crab bed—had a higher food availability and an abundance of several meiofaunal groups (e.g. ostracods, and principally nematodes). Large-scale bioturbation (crab-bed formation) also affected primary producers, infaunal assemblages, and clam distribution, because at the highest intertidal levels clams were absent outside the crab beds. Our results thus demonstrate the differential effects of 2 contrasting EEs on the organization of soft-bottom communities and the key role of microheterogeneities in adding specific structures to already modified systems on a larger scale.


KEY WORDS: Ecosystem engineers · Habitat structure · Infaunal assemblages · Clams · Crabs


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Cite this article as: Alvarez MF, Addino M, Iribarne O, Botto F (2015) Combined engineering effects of clams and crabs on infaunal assemblages and food availability in intertidal systems. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 540:57-71. https://doi.org/10.3354/meps11478

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