Meiofaunal prominence and benthic seasonality in a coastal marine ecosystem
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The muds of a shallow (7 m) site in Narragansett Bay, Rhode Island contained higher abundances of meiofauna (averaging 17×106 individuals per m2 and ash free dry weight of 2.9 g/m2 during a 3 year period) than have been found in any other sediment. The majority of sublittoral muds, worldwide, have been reported to contain about 106 individuals per m2. This difference is attributed primarily to differences in sampling techniques and laboratory processing.
Extremely high meiofaunal abundances may have also occurred because Narragansett Bay sediments were a foodrich environment. While the quantity of organic deposition in the bay is not unusually high for coastal waters, this input, primarily composed of diatom detritus, may contain an unusually high proportion of labile organics. Furthermore, meiofauna could have thrived because of spatial segregation of meiofauna and macrofauna. While meiofauna were concentrated at the sediment-water interface, most macrofauna were subsurface deposit feeders. Macrofaunal competition with, and ingestion of meiofauna may thus have been minimized.
The seasonal cycles of meiofauna and macrofauna were similar. Highest abundances and biomass were observed in May and June and lowest values in the late summer and fall. Springtime increases of meiofaunal abundance were observed in all depth horizons, to 10 cm. We hypothesize that phytoplankton detritus accumulated in the sediment during the winter and early spring, and that the benthos responded to this store of food when temperatures rose rapidly in the late spring. By late summer, the stored detritus was exhausted and the benthos declined.
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