The ecology of cirratulid mudballs on the Oman margin, northwest Arabian Sea
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Mudball-building cirratulid polychaetes have been described previously only from the southern California margin. During a study of oxygen minimum-zone benthos in fall 1994, we observed dense aggregations of agglutinated mudballs at 840 to 875 m on the Oman margin in the northwest Arabian Sea. These were inhabited, and probably constructed, by a cirratulid polychaete species in the genus Monticellina. The mudballs were cigar-shaped, 4.5 to 25 mm long, and positioned vertically so as to protrude several millimeters above the sediment–water interface. Total mudball densities were ∼16 000 m−2. Occupied mudballs occurred at densities of 2 112 m−2; 89% were in the uppermost 2 cm of sediment, and no occupied mudballs were found below 10 cm. Organisms other than the cirratulid were present on 1.7% of the mudballs examined, and included epizoic polychaetes, agglutinated and calcareous Foraminifera. Various polychaetes, a nemertean and nematodes were found inside tests. Mudball abundance exhibited positive associations with densities of several paraonid polychaete species, and with densities of burrowing and subsurface-deposit-feeding polychaetes. Negative associations were observed between mudballs and three tube-building taxa (two polychaetes and an amphipod). Mudball-inhabiting cirratulids are abundant in at least two low-oxygen, margin settings. We expect further sampling of bathyal environments to yield additional systems in which cirratulid mudballs are common. Such observations are valuable because mudballs appear to represent a significant source of heterogeneity that can influence macrofaunal community structure in deep-sea sediments.
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