How do harpacticoid copepods colonize detrital seagrass leaves?
An experiment was carried out investigating the colonization ability and specific pattern of copepods towards a provisional benthic habitat. Since copepods are known to disperse passively and actively, the experiment aimed to investigate the pool of colonizers of macrophytodetritus and the species-specific active colonization pathways. The experiment was performed in a Mediterranean seagrass Posidonia oceanica meadow on defaunated macrophytodetritus accumulations (mainly dead seagrass leaves) for two time intervals (24 and 96 h). Active colonization by copepods, independently of their adjacent potential source pool habitat (bare sandy sediments, P. oceanica canopy, water column and macrophytodetritus) occurred within 24 h. Natural densities (as in the control treatments) were only reached by active colonization through the water column. Both neither diversities nor species composition of natural macrophytodetritus were ever reached by one single migratory pathway, therefore only a combination of interstitial migration and water column migration can explain the species occurrence under natural condition. Moreover, every potential adjacent source pool habitat contributed species to the newly colonized macrophytodetritus. However, the main colonizers were mostly species with good swimming capabilities. The diverse pool of species present in the newly colonized macrophytodetritus underlines the complex communities and dispersion capabilities of copepods. Hence, macrophytodetritus possesses the potential ability to be a colonizer source pool for every adjacent habitat and thus behaves as a copepod hub for the entire seagrass ecosystem.