Long-term nutrient enrichment elicits a weak density response by saltmarsh meiofauna
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- Mitwally, H.M. & Fleeger, J.W. Hydrobiologia (2013) 713: 97. doi:10.1007/s10750-013-1496-7
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The effect of chronic nutrient enrichment on benthic meiofauna was examined in a whole-ecosystem experiment conducted in salt marshes in the Plum Island watershed of northeastern Massachusetts, USA. We compared abundances of total meiofauna, nematodes, copepods, ostracods, and annelids including Manayunkia aestuarina, in fertilized (where N and P was increased 15× in incoming tidal water throughout each growing season for 6 years) and reference marsh creeks to test for bottom-up responses. Although some responses to nutrient enrichment were evident, results did not match our expectations of strong increases in abundance. Variation in abundance between nutrient-enriched and reference creeks was detected in all three subhabitats but responses were inconsistent and variable over time, suggesting that natural variability was greater than variation induced by fertilization. Our results showed an overall weak negative correlation between meiofauna abundance and benthic microalgae (BMA) biomass partly because the BMA response to nutrient enrichment was relatively small and perhaps limited by grazing macrofauna and nekton. Our results suggest a better mechanistic understanding of the relationship between BMA and meiofaunal abundance is needed to fully understand how nutrient enrichment affects meiofauna.