Aquatic Sciences

, 81:13 | Cite as

Respiration and aeration by bioturbating Tubificidae alter biogeochemical processes in aquatic sediment

  • Rémon M. SaaltinkEmail author
  • Eldin Honingh
  • Stefan C. Dekker
  • Jasper Griffioen
  • Mariëlle C. van Riel
  • Piet F. M. Verdonschot
  • Jos P. M. Vink
  • Johan C. Winterwerp
  • Martin J. Wassen
Research Article


This study investigates the potential of bioturbating Tubificidae to alter biogeochemical processes by sediment aeration in order to enhance ecosystem development in eco-engineering projects. We introduced Tubificidae in three different densities (5000, 15,000, and 30,000 individuals m−2) in clay-rich sediment from lake Markermeer (The Netherlands). Redox potential, nutrients and major elements were measured from the water column and porewater at different depths. Mineral phase and redox transfers were chemically modelled and oxygen concentrations in bioturbated sediments for each density were mathematically predicted. The measured results of this experiment showed that Tubificidae oxygenated the upper 15 mm of the sediment. This resulted in decomposition of sedimentary organic matter with an associated sixfold increase in NH4 and NOx concentrations in the porewater and the water column. However, phosphorus concentrations were declining in the upper 16 mm, likely as a result of immobilization by pyrite oxidation and production of iron oxides. These bioturbation effects were highest in the treatment with an intermediate density of Tubificidae (15,000 worms m−2) as aeration effects in the treatment with the highest density of Tubificidae (30,000 worms m−2) was impeded by high respiration rates. Furthermore, with a two dimensional diffusion model, simulated effects of respiration and aeration on the oxygen concentration in the sediment suggest that the bioturbation effect is strongest at a density of 12,000 worms m−2. In ecological engineering projects where fast ecosystem development is important, introducing Tubificidae to aquatic sediments to optimal densities might enhance initial ecosystem development due to improved availability of nitrogen as nutrient.


Eco-engineering Marker Wadden Markermeer Nutrient availability Oxidation PhreeqC 



This study was supported with funding from Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research (NWO), Stichting voor de Technische Wetenschappen (project no. 850.13.032) and the companies Deltares, Boskalis and Van Oord. This manuscript was produced with unrestricted freedom to report all results. We would also like to express our thanks to Thom Claessen and John Visser for their help, support and advice during the experiment.

Supplementary material

27_2018_610_MOESM1_ESM.docx (677 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 677 KB)


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Rémon M. Saaltink
    • 1
    • 8
    Email author
  • Eldin Honingh
    • 1
  • Stefan C. Dekker
    • 1
    • 2
  • Jasper Griffioen
    • 1
    • 3
  • Mariëlle C. van Riel
    • 5
    • 6
  • Piet F. M. Verdonschot
    • 5
    • 6
  • Jos P. M. Vink
    • 4
  • Johan C. Winterwerp
    • 7
  • Martin J. Wassen
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Environmental Sciences, Copernicus Institute of Sustainable DevelopmentUtrecht UniversityUtrechtThe Netherlands
  2. 2.Faculty of Management, Science and TechnologyOpen UniversityHeerlenThe Netherlands
  3. 3.TNO Geological Survey of the NetherlandsUtrechtThe Netherlands
  4. 4.Deltares, Soil and Subsurface SystemsUtrechtThe Netherlands
  5. 5.Institute for Biodiversity and Ecosystem DynamicsUniversity of AmsterdamAmsterdamThe Netherlands
  6. 6.Wageningen Environmental Research, Wageningen URWageningenThe Netherlands
  7. 7.Department of Hydraulic EngineeringDelft University of TechnologyDelftThe Netherlands
  8. 8.Research Group of Sustainable ProductionHAS University of Applied Sciences‘s-HertogenboschThe Netherlands

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