Encyclopedia of Marine Geosciences

Living Edition
| Editors: Jan Harff, Martin Meschede, Sven Petersen, Jörn Thiede


  • Gerhard GrafEmail author
Living reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-94-007-6644-0_132-1


Organic Carbon Content Molecular Diffusion Time Slice Biogeochemical Cycle Radioactive Tracer 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Bioturbation is the mixing and displacement of particles in marine and freshwater sediments caused by benthic fauna mainly during foraging and the construction of burrows. As a result particulate proxies and microfossils such as tests of foraminifera deposited at the seafloor may not be found in the time slice corresponding to its deposition, and the interpretation of the geological record can be hampered. Other effects of animal activity, such as biodeposition and bioresuspension, but also fluid transport will not be considered in this section although they are essential for biogeochemical cycles and are used as subprocesses of bioturbation in recent biological literature (cf. Kristensen et al. 2012).

Measurement and Modeling

In geological sciences, mainly natural radioactive tracers like 210Pb, 234Th, or 7Be but also chlorophyll a or stained sand grains have been used for a quantitative description. A basic equation for sediment mixing was provided by Berner (1980).
$$ \frac{\partial C}{\partial t}=\frac{\partial }{\partial x}\left({D}_b(x)\frac{\partial C}{\partial x}\right)-\omega \frac{\partial C}{\partial x}\pm R\left(C,x,t\right) $$
C = concentration of tracer, t = time, x = depth, D b = mixing coefficient, ω = burial velocity, R = reaction term for the tracer

It describes particle mixing in analogy to molecular diffusion. This assumption holds true in the case of many animals moving particles in a stochastic way in small steps (local mixing). Statistically this creates a transport of tracers along the concentration gradient, as does the Brownian movement on the molecular level, and can be calculated via Fick’s law of diffusion. The mixing coefficient D b provides a quantitative measure.

Some animals transport food particle directly in one step from the surface to depth, or particles may drop into open burrows. In these cases the diffusion analogy is inadequate, and this advective transport (nonlocal mixing) has to be considered separately, i.e., the step length and frequency of such events have to be determined and to be included into the model, as, for example, in the gallery-diffusion model by Francois et al. (2002).

Order of Magnitude

From published data, Boudreau (1994) calculated a worldwide mean mixing depth of 9.8 ± 4.5 cm. It is, however, well documented that animal burrows may reach as deep as 2 m (Thalassinidea). Mixing coefficients D b may range from 0.0002 to 370 cm2 years−1. The latter results are highly dependent on the habitat and the tracers used. The shorter the half-life of the tracer, the higher is DB. This result is mainly explained by the fact that some animals are highly selective and prefer fresh organic matter.

So far attempts to find general relationships between sediment mixing and biomass or organic carbon content failed, indicating the strong species-specific effect of bioturbation.


  1. Berner, R. A., 1980. Early Diagenesis: A Mathematical Approach. Princton: Princton University Press.Google Scholar
  2. Boudreau, B. P., 1994. Is burial velocity a master parameter for bioturbation? Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta, 58, 1243–1249.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Francois, F., Gerino, M., Stora, G., Durbec, J.-P., and Poggiale, J.-C., 2002. Functional approach to sediment reworking by gallery-forming macrobenthic organisms: modeling and application with the polychaete Nereis diversicolor. Marine Ecology Progress Series, 229, 127–136.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Kristensen, E., Penha-Lopes, G., Delefosse, M., Valdemarsen, T., Quintana, C. O., and Banta, G. T., 2012. What is bioturbation? The need for a precise definition for fauna in aquatic sciences. Marine Ecology Progress Series, 446, 285–302.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute for Biological SciencesUniversity of RostockRostockGermany