• Teresa Radziejewska
Part of the SpringerBriefs in Earth System Sciences book series (BRIEFSEARTHSYST)


The meiobenthos (also called the benthic meiofauna) is a heterogenous group of benthic organisms, both protists and metazoans. Initially distinguished among the benthic organisms on account of their size [as organisms retained on 0.063 (0.032)–1.00 (0.500 or 0.250) mm mesh size sieves], the grouping has become recognised as a distinct ecological category, important by its major contribution to benthic metabolism and secondary production. While marine ecological research usually addresses entire meiobenthic communities considered as assemblages of interacting components represented by high-rank taxonomic units called the major taxa (phyla, orders, families), there is a general awareness of an immense taxonomic richness (diversity) those taxa represent. Whenever detailed taxonomic studies on the meiobenthos have been carried out, a great number of new species, genera and higher-rank taxa has been described. However, the knowledge of this diversity, particularly in the deep sea, is still greatly limited. Ecological research on the meiobenthos revealed the grouping to be a sensitive indicator of environmental changes. Consequently, the meiobenthos is being increasingly frequently used in monitoring and evaluating impacts of factors that disturb the natural state of sedimentary environment. The reliability of such evaluations may be enhanced by refining the resolution of taxonomic analyses and by coupling them with information on functional traits of the meiobenthic taxa present in an assemblage. While such approach is gaining popularity in research on coastal areas, it is still very rare in the deep sea, although the meiobenthos-related variables have been used in evaluating impacts in the deep sea.


Meiobenthos Diversity Functional diversity Taxonomic sufficiency Disturbance indication 


  1. Alves A, Verissimo H, Costa MJ et al (2014) Taxonomic resolution and Biological Traits Analysis (BTA) approaches in estuarine free-living nematodes. Est Coast Shelf Sci 138:69–78CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Angel MV, Rice TL (1996) The ecology of the deep ocean and its relevance to global waste management. J Appl Ecol 33:915–926CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. de Assunção FM, Vanaverbeke J, van Oevelen D et al (2010) Respiration partitioning in contrasting subtidal sediments: seasonality and response to a spring phytoplankton deposition. Mar Ecol 31:276–290CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Austen MC, McEvoy AJ (1997) The use of offshore meiobenthic communities in laboratory microcosm experiments: response to heavy metal contamination. J Exp Mar Biol Ecol 211:247–261CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Austen MC, Widdicombe S (2006) Comparison of the response of meio-and macrobenthos to disturbance and organic enrichment. J Exp Mar Biol Ecol 330:96–104CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Austen MC, McEvoy AJ, Warwick RM (1994) The specificity of meiobenthic community responses to different pollutants: results from microcosm experiments. Mar Poll Bull 28:557–563CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Balsamo M, Semprucci F, Frontalini F et al (2012) Meiofauna as a tool for marine ecosystem biomonitoring. In: Cruzado A (ed) Marine ecosystems. InTech, Rijeka. doi: 10.5772/34423
  8. Berghe WV, Bergmans M (1996) Differential food preferences in three co-occurring species of Tisbe (Copepoda, Harpacticoida). Mar Ecol Prog Ser 4:213–219CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Bertasi F, Colangelo MA, Colosio F et al (2009) Comparing efficacy of different taxonomic resolutions and surrogates in detecting changes in soft bottom assemblages due to coastal defence structures. Mar Poll Bull 58:686–694CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Bett BJ (2013) Characteristic benthic size spectra: potential sampling artefacts. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 487:1–6CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Bett BJ, Narayanaswamy BE (2014) Genera as proxies for species α- and β-diversity: tested across a deep-water Atlantic-Arctic boundary. Mar Ecol. doi: 10.1111/maec.12100 Google Scholar
  12. Boucher G (1985) Long term monitoring of meiofauna densities after the “Amoco Cadiz” oil spill. Mar Poll Bull 16:328–333CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Boucher G, Lambshead PJD (1995) Ecological biodiversity of marine nematodes in samples from temperate, tropical and deep-sea regions. Conserv Biol 9:1594–1604CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Bremner J, Rogers SI, Frid CLJ (2006) Matching biological traits to environmental conditions in marine benthic ecosystems. J Mar Sys 60:302–316CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Carman KR, Thistle D, Fleeger JW et al (2004) Influence of introduced CO2 on deep-sea metazoan meiofauna. J Oceanog 60:767–772CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Ceccherelli VU, Mistri M (1991) Production of the meiobenthic harpacticoid copepod Canuella perplexa. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 68:225–234CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Coull BC (1985) Long-term variability of estuarine meiobenthos: an 11 year study. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 24:205–218CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Danovaro R, Fabiano M, Vincx M (1995) Meiofauna response to the “Agip Abruzzo” oil spill in subtidal sediments of the Ligurian Sea. Mar Poll Bull 30:133–145CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Danovaro R, Dell’Anno A, Pusceddu A et al (2010) The first metazoa living in permanently anoxic conditions. BMC Biol 8(1):30CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Drgas A (1999) Rola meiofauny w biocenozach dennych Zatoki Gdańskiej ze szczególnym uwzględnieniem wolnożyjących nicieni (Nematoda). PhD thesis, Sea Fisheries Institute, GdyniaGoogle Scholar
  21. Drgas A, Radziejewska T, Warzocha J (1998) Biomass size spectra of near-shore shallow-water benthic communities in the Gulf of Gdańsk (Southern Baltic Sea). PSZN Mar Ecol 19:209–228CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Duplisea DE, Drgas A (1999) Sensitivity of a benthic, metazoan, biomass size spectrum to differences in sediment granulometry. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 177:73–81CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Duplisea DE, Hargrave BT (1996) Response of meiobenthic size-structure, biomass and respiration to sediment organic enrichment. Hydrobiologia 339:161–170CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Essink K, Romeyn K (1994) Estuarine nematodes as indicators of organic pollution: an example from the Ems estuary (the Netherlands). Neth J Aquat Ecol 28:213–219CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Fasham MJR, Baltiño BM, Bowles MC et al (2001) A new vision of ocean giobeochemistry after a decade of the Joint Global Ocean Flux Study (JGOFS). Ambio Spec Rep 10:4–30Google Scholar
  26. Feller RJ (1982) Empirical estimates of carbon production from a meiobenthic harpacticoid copepod. Can J Fish Aquat Sci 39:1435–1443CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Ferraro SP, Cole FA (1990) Taxonomic level and sample size sufficient for assessing pollution impacts on the Southern California Bight macrobenthos. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 67:251–261CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Fleeger JW, Palmer MA (1982) Secondary production of the estuarine, meiobenthic copepod Microarthridion littorale. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 7:157–162CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Fleeger JW, Carman KR, Weisenhorn PB et al (2006) Simulated sequestration of anthropogenic carbon dioxide at a deep-sea site: effects on nematode abundance and biovolume. Deep Sea Res I 53:1135–1147CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Fonseca CR, Ganade G (2001) Species functional redundancy, random extinctions and the stability of ecosystems. J Ecol 89:118–125CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Gage JD (1996) Why are there so many species in deep-sea sediments? J Exp Mar Biol Ecol 200:257–286CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Giere O (2009) Meiobenthology. The microscopic fauna in aquatic sediments, 2nd edn. Springer, BerlinGoogle Scholar
  33. Goodsell PJ, Underwood AJ, Chapman MG (2009) Evidence necessary for taxa to be reliable indicators of environmental conditions or impacts. Mar Poll Bull 58:323–331CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Gray JS (1994) Is deep-sea species diversity really so high? Species diversity of the Norwegian continental shelf. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 112:205–209CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Gray JS, Poore GCB, Ugland KI et al (1997) Coastal and deep-sea benthic diversities compared. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 159:97–103CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Green RH (1979) Sampling design and statistical methods for environmental biologists. Wiley & Sons, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  37. Heip C (1980) Meiobenthos as a tool in the assessment of marine environmental quality. Rapp Proc-verb Réun 179:182–187Google Scholar
  38. Hellwig-Armonies M, Armonies W, Lorenzen S (1991) The diet of Enoplus brevis (Nematoda) in a supralittoral salt marsh of the North Sea. Helgol Meeresunters 45:357–371CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Herman PMJ, Heip C (1982) Growth and respiration of Cyprideis torosa Jones, 1850 (Crustacea, Ostracoda). Oecologia (Berl) 54:300–303CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Herman PMJ, Heip C (1985) Secondary production of the harpacticoid copepod Paronyhocamptus nanus in a brackish-water habitat. Limnol Oceanog 30:1060–1066CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Herman PMJ, Heip C (1988) On the use of meiofauna in ecological monitoring: who needs taxonomy? Mar Poll Bull 19:665–668CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Hummon WD (1977) Introgressive hybridization between two intertidal species of Tetranchyroderma (Gastrotricha, Thaumastodermatidae) with the description of a new species. Mikrofauna Meeresbodens 61:113–136Google Scholar
  43. Jahnke R (1998) Geochemical impacts of waste disposal on the abyssal seafloor. J Mar Sys 14:355–375CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Jensen P (1987) Feeding ecology of free-living aquatic nematodes. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 35:187–196CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Kalogeropoulou V, Bett BJ, Gooday AJ et al (2010) Temporal changes (1989–1999) in deep-sea metazoan meiofaunal assemblages on the Porcupine Abyssal Plain, NE Atlantic. Deep Sea Res II 57:1383–1395CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Keller M (1986) Structure des peuplements méiobenthiques dans le secteur pollué par le rejet en mer de l'égout de Marseille. Ann Inst Oceanogr 62:2–36Google Scholar
  47. Khripounoff A, Vangriesheim A, Crassous P (1998) Vertical and temporal variations of particle fluxes in the deep tropical Atlantic. Deep-Sea Res I 45:293–316CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Kovatch CE, Schizas NV, Chandler GT et al (2000) Tolerance and genetic relatedness of three meiobenthic copepod populations exposed to sediment-associated contaminant mixtures: role of environmental history. Environ Toxicol Chem 19:912–919CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Kristensen RM (1983) Loricifera, a new phylum with aschelminthes characters from the meiobenthos. Zeitschr Zool Syst Evolutionsforsch 21:163–180CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Lemonick MD (1995) The last frontier. Time Int 146(7):36–44Google Scholar
  51. Loreau M (2000) Biodiversity and ecosystem functioning: recent theoretical advances. Oikos 91:3–17CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Mare MF (1942) A study of a marine benthic community with a special reference to the micro-organisms. J Mar Biol Ass UK 25:517–554CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Maurer D (2000) The dark side of taxonomic sufficiency (TS). Mar Poll Bull 40:98–101CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. McIntyre AD (1969) Ecology of marine meiobenthos. Biol Rev Cambridge Phil Soc 44:245–290CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. McIntyre A (ed) (2010) Life in the world’s oceans: diversity, distribution, and abundance. Wiley-Blackwell, ChichesterGoogle Scholar
  56. Moens T, Vincx M (1997) Observations on the feeding ecology of estuarine nematodes. J Mar Biol Ass UK 77:211–227CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Moens T, Vierstraete A, Vanhove S et al (1996) A handy method for measuring meiobenthic respiration. J Exp Mar Biol Ecol 197:177–190CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Ólafsson E, Elmgren R (1991) Effects of biological disturbance by benthic amphipods Monoporeia affinis on meiobenthic community structure: a laboratory approach. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 74:99–107CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Opaliński KW, Maciejewska K, Urban-Malinga B et al (2010) The oxygen fluxes of sandy littoral areas: quantifying primary and secondary producers in the Baltic Sea. Mar Poll Bull 61:211–214CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Pamatmat MM, Findlay S (1983) Metabolism of microbes, nematodes, polychaetes, and their interactions in sediment, as determined by heat flow measurements. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 11:31–38CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Pfannkuche O (1993) Benthic response to the sedimentation of particulate organic matter at the BIOTRANS station, 47°N, 20°W. Deep Sea Res II 40:135–149CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Powell EN, Crenshaw MA, Rieger RM (1979) Adaptations to sulfide in the meiofauna of the sulfide system. I. 35S-sulfide accumulation and the presence of a sulfide detoxification system. J Exp Mar Biol Ecol 37:57–76CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. Raffaelli D (1982) An assessment of the potential of major meiofauna groups for monitoring organic pollution. Mar Envir Res 7:151–164CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. Riera P, Gremare A, Blanchard G (1996) Food sources of intertidal nematodes in the Bay of Garennes-Oleron (France), as determined by dual stable isotope analysis. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 142:303–309CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  65. Rokicka-Praxmajer J, Radziejewska T, Dworczak H (1998) Meiobenthic communities of the Pomeranian Bay (southern Baltic): effects of proximity to river discharge. Oceanologia 40:243–260Google Scholar
  66. Schratzberger M, Warr K, Rogers SI (2007) Functional diversity of nematode communities in the southwestern North Sea. Mar Envir Res 63:368–389CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  67. Schwinghamer P (1981) Characteristic size distributions of integral benthic communities. Can J Fish Aquat Sci 38:1255–1263CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  68. Shaw KM, Lambshead PJD, Platt HM (1983) Detection of pollution-induced disturbance in marine benthic assemblages with special reference to nematodes. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 11:195–202CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  69. Shirayama Y (1992) Respiration rates of bathyal meiobenthos collected using a deep-sea submersible SHINKAI 2000. Deep-Sea Res 39:781–788CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  70. Snelgrove PV (2010) Discoveries of the census of marine life. Cambridge University Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  71. Terlizzi A, Bevilacqua S, Fraschetti S et al (2003) Taxonomic sufficiency and the increasing insufficiency of taxonomic expertise. Mar Poll Bull 46:556–561CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  72. Thiel H (1983) Meiobenthos and nanobenthos of the deep sea. In: Rowe G (ed) Deep-sea biology. The Sea, 8th edn. Wiley-Interscience, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  73. Thistle D, Lambshead PJD, Sherman KM (1995) Nematode tail-shape groups respond to environmental differences in the deep sea. Vie Milieu 45:107–115Google Scholar
  74. Thistle D, Sedlacek L, Carman KR et al (2007a) Emergence in the deep sea: Evidence from harpacticoid copepods. Deep-Sea Res I 54:1008–1014CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  75. Thistle D, Sedlacek L, Carman KR et al (2007b) Exposure to carbon dioxide-rich seawater is stressful for some deep-sea species: an in situ, behavioral study. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 340:9–16CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  76. Urban-Malinga B (2013) Meiobenthos in marine coastal sediments. Geol Soc London, Spec Publ 388. doi: 10.1144/SP388.9
  77. Van Damme D, Heip C, Willems KA (1984) Influence of pollution on the harpacticoid of two North Sea estuaries. Hydrobiologia 112:143–160CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  78. van der Loeff MMR, Lavaleye MSS (1986) Sediments, fauna and the dispersal of radionuclides at the N.E. Atlantic dumpsite for low-level radioactive waste. Report of the Dutch DORA Program, Netherlands Institute for Sea Research, TexelGoogle Scholar
  79. Van Gaever S, Moodley L, De Beer D et al (2006) Meiobenthos at the Arctic Håkon Mosby Mud Volcano, with a parental-caring nematode thriving in sulphide-rich sediments. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 321:143–155CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  80. Vanaverbeke J, Steyaert M, Vanreusel A et al (2003) Nematode biomass spectra as descriptors of functional changes due to human and natural impact. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 249:157–170CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  81. Vincx M, Heip C (1987) The use of meiobenthos in pollution monitoring studies. A review. ICES, C.M. E:33Google Scholar
  82. Warwick RM (1984) Species size distributions in marine benthic communities. Oecologia (Berl) 61:32–41CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  83. Warwick RM (1988) The level of taxonomic discrimination required to detect pollution effects on marine benthic communities. Mar Poll Bull 19:259–268CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  84. Warwick RM, Collins NR, Gee JM et al (1986) Species size distributions of benthic and pelagic Metazoa: evidence for interaction? Mar Ecol Prog Ser 34:63–68CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  85. Wieser W (1953) Die Beziehung zwischen Mundhohlengestalt, Ernahrungsweise und Vorkommen bei freilebenden marinen Nematoden. Ark Zool 4:439–484Google Scholar
  86. Woulds C, Cowie GL, Levin LA et al (2007) Oxygen as a control on sea floor biological communities and their roles in sedimentary carbon cycling. Limnol Oceanog 52:1698–1709CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  87. Young DK, Richardson MD (1998) Effects of waste disposal on benthic faunal succession on the abyssal seafloor. J Mar Sys 14:319–336CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Palaeoceanology Unit, Faculty of GeosciencesUniversity of SzczecinSzczecinPoland

Personalised recommendations