Spatial variability in macrofaunal diet composition and grazing pressure on microphytobenthos in intertidal areas

T.D. Daggers, Dick van Oevelen, Peter M.J. Herman, Henricus T.S. Boschker, Daphne van der Wal*

*Corresponding author for this work

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Microphytobenthos forms an important part of the diet of macrofauna (macrozoobenthos) in many intertidal ecosystems. It is unclear, however, whether the dependence of macrofauna on microphytobenthos varies spatially within and among tidal systems. We aim (1) to assess the spatial variability in the importance of microphytobenthos in the diet of macrofauna (i.e., between and within two tidal basins and as function of elevation), (2) to quantify grazing pressure of the macrofaunal community on different potential food sources (microphytobenthos, phytoplankton and terrestrial organic material) for several sites in two tidal basins and (3) to compare microphytobenthic production and summer/autumn grazing of the total macrofaunal community and grazing pressure per feeding type, with potential microphytobenthic production estimated from rates in early spring, when grazing was low. Using a natural stable isotope approach, we identified microphytobenthos as a more important food source for macrofauna than phytoplankton and terrestrial organic material. Microphytobenthos dependency differed between tidal basins for the genera Bathyporeia (sand digger shrimp), Macoma (Baltic tellin), and Peringia (mudsnail) and for sampled individuals of all genera combined, and did not vary as function of elevation. We showed that macrofaunal grazing on microphytobenthos is quantitatively important and, in some cases, approached microphytobenthic production rates in early spring. No positive relation between microphytobenthic production in early spring and macrofaunal grazing in summer/autumn was observed. This suggests that the studied consumer‐resource interactions are coupled on a larger spatial scale (i.e., mesoscale, ≈10 to 100 km), rather than the fine (mm to m) scale.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2819–2834
Number of pages16
JournalLimnology and oceanography
Issue number11
Early online date13 Jul 2020
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2020


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