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Oecologia. 2014 Jun;175(2):677-85. doi: 10.1007/s00442-014-2916-8. Epub 2014 Mar 15.

Seagrasses are negatively affected by organic matter loading and Arenicola marina activity in a laboratory experiment.

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  • 1Department of Environmental Science, Faculty of Science, Radboud University Nijmegen, Heyendaalseweg 135, 6525 AJ, Nijmegen, The Netherlands, lauralgovers@gmail.com.


When two ecosystem engineers share the same natural environment, the outcome of their interaction will be unclear if they have contrasting habitat-modifying effects (e.g., sediment stabilization vs. sediment destabilization). The outcome of the interaction may depend on local environmental conditions such as season or sediment type, which may affect the extent and type of habitat modification by the ecosystem engineers involved. We mechanistically studied the interaction between the sediment-stabilizing seagrass Zostera noltii and the bioturbating and sediment-destabilizing lugworm Arenicola marina, which sometimes co-occur for prolonged periods. We investigated (1) if the negative sediment destabilization effect of A. marina on Z. noltii might be counteracted by positive biogeochemical effects of bioirrigation (burrow flushing) by A. marina in sulfide-rich sediments, and (2) if previously observed nutrient release by A. marina bioirrigation could affect seagrasses. We tested the individual and combined effects of A. marina presence and high porewater sulfide concentrations (induced by organic matter addition) on seagrass biomass in a full factorial lab experiment. Contrary to our expectations, we did not find an effect of A. marina on porewater sulfide concentrations. A. marina activities affected the seagrass physically as well as by pumping nutrients, mainly ammonium and phosphate, from the porewater to the surface water, which promoted epiphyte growth on seagrass leaves in our experimental set-up. We conclude that A. marina bioirrigation did not alleviate sulfide stress to seagrasses. Instead, we found synergistic negative effects of the presence of A. marina and high sediment sulfide levels on seagrass biomass.

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