, Volume 141, Issue 4, pp 667-677

Biodiversity and trophic structure of nematode assemblages in seagrass systems: evidence for a coupling with changes in food availability

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Abstract.

Nematode assemblage composition, trophic structure and biodiversity were followed over an annual cycle in a Posidonia oceanica bed of the NW Mediterranean to test the response to temporally changing food availability (sediment organic matter, bacterial and microphytobenthic biomass). The sediment–water interface of the seagrass meadow was characterised by high particulate organic matter concentrations. Also, seagrass sediments had high organic matter content, chloropigment concentrations and bacterial biomass. All organic matter components (i.e. carbohydrates, proteins and lipids) changed temporally, with higher concentrations in winter and spring and lower concentrations in summer; however, overall, large amounts of organic compounds were potentially available for (seagrass) benthic consumers throughout the year. Nematode assemblage in the P. oceanica bed maintained a high genus number (88 genera), and a trophic structure tightly coupled with the composition of the potential food sources. In agreement with the relevance of microphytobenthos, epigrowth-feeder nematodes (2A) represented the dominant trophic guild. The biomass of predator nematodes (2B) was significantly correlated with the biomass of other nematodes. Non-selective deposit feeders (1B) displayed a close relationship with the concentration of proteins, carbohydrates and biopolymeric carbon (i.e. labile organic detritus). Conversely to what was expected, epigrowth feeders were not correlated with chloropigment concentrations, but showed a significant relationship with the number of dividing bacteria, possibly suggesting a trophic plasticity of the 2A feeding guild. The coupling between temporal changes in food sources and temporal variability of the nematode trophic structure was highlighted by a CANOCO analysis, which allowed us to identify and associate, at each sampling time, nematode genera and their feeding habits, with specific environmental variables and food indicators. Furthermore, species diversity (H′) and evenness (J) calculated on nematodes identified to the genus level displayed evident temporal changes, also reflected by the index of trophic diversity (ITD). Both structural and functional diversity were coupled with high concentration and highly heterogeneous composition of the food sources (including organic detritus, microphytobenthic algae and bacteria) potentially available to nematodes. These data suggest that temporal changes in quantity and quality of food sources do not only influence nematode dynamics and trophic composition, but also influence nematode structural and functional diversity.

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