MEPS - Vol. 604 - FEATURE ARTICLE

The prevalence of crustaceans, such as fiddler crabs, in tropical mudflats can provide functional equivalence to the burrowing worms of temperate regions. Illustration: Original artwork by Bryony Caswell

Dissanayake NG, Frid CLJ, Drylie TP, Caswell BA

 

Ecological functioning of mudflats: global analysis reveals both regional differences and widespread conservation of functioning


Intertidal mudflat health is deteriorating due to increasing pressure from human activities. Greater knowledge of variations in ecological functioning can aid management, by identifying threats. This global analysis reveals variations in taxonomic and biological trait composition of mudflat macrofauna. We highlight data deficiencies, and show that proportionally more burrowers in temperate zones may support greater sediment turnover and nutrient cycling compared with the subtropics or tropics. Contrastingly, in the latter tube dwellers provide more biogenic habitat. Overall, functioning was globally conserved, e.g. surface sediment modification by crabs in the tropics may provide equivalent mixing to numerous small burrowing worms in temperate flats. This functional redundancy across biogeographic boundaries implies some resilience of mudflat functioning and ecosystem service delivery to perturbations.

 

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