Marine Biology

, Volume 152, Issue 2, pp 339–350 | Cite as

Trophic importance of subtidal metazoan meiofauna: evidence from in situ exclusion experiments on soft and rocky substrates

  • Roberto DanovaroEmail author
  • Mariaspina Scopa
  • Cristina Gambi
  • Simonetta Fraschetti
Research Article


In coastal marine ecosystems, predation might affect spatial distribution and population dynamics of benthic assemblages. Here, by means of experimental exclusion of potential predators, we compared the effects of epibenthic predation on metazoan meiofaunal assemblages on soft and rocky substrates. Different patterns of abundance were observed in uncaged versus caged plots, across habitats. In caged soft substrates, the abundance of Nematodes, Copepods and Polychaetes increased by 56, 45, 57%, respectively, in the first 3 months. An increase in the number of meiofaunal taxa was also observed. The exclusion of predators from rocky substrates showed less clear patterns. It did not affect the number of taxa while a decrease in meiofaunal abundance was observed. Our results suggest that the exclusion of epibenthic predators had clear effect on total metazoan meiofaunal abundance and on the number of taxa, only in soft bottoms. The different impact of predation across habitats can be potentially explained by differences in terms of spatial variability and substrate complexity. We estimated that, coarsely, more than 75% of total metazoan meiofaunal production can be channeled to higher trophic levels through predation on soft-bottoms. Among meiofaunal taxa, Polychaetes and Nematodes provided the major contribution to benthic energy transfers. These results suggest the trophic relevance of metazoan meiofauna in coastal food webs and claim for the refinement of further experiments for the quantification of its role in different ecological systems.


Polychaete High Trophic Level Meiofauna Soft Sediment Soft Substrate 
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.



This work has been carried out within the frame of the Network of Excellence MARBEF (Marine Biodiversity and Ecosystem Functioning) and has been financially supported by the MIUR, project FIRB 2001 (n. RBAU 012 KXA_009).


  1. Aarnio K, Bonsdorff E, Rosenback N (1996) Food and feeding habits of juvenile flounder, Platichthys flesus (L.), and turbot, Scophthalmus maximus L., in the Aland archipelago, northern Baltic Sea. J Sea Res 36:311–320CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Ambrose WG Jr (1984a) Influence of predatory Polychaetes on the structure of a soft-bottom community in a Maine estuary. J Exp Mar Biol Ecol 81:115–145CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Ambrose WG Jr (1984b) Role of predatory infauna in structuring marine soft bottom communities. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 17:109–115CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Anderson MJ (2001a) A new method for non-parametric multivariate analysis of variance. Aust Ecol 26:32–46Google Scholar
  5. Anderson MJ (2001b) Permutation tests for univariate or multivariate analysis of variance and regression. Can J Fish Aquat Sci 58:626–639CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Anderson MJ (2003) PCO: a FORTRAN computer program for principal coordinate analysis. Department of Statistics, University of Auckland, New ZealandGoogle Scholar
  7. Anderson MJ (2005) PERMANOVA: a FORTRAN computer program for permutational multivariate analysis of variance. Department of Statistics, University of Auckland, New ZealandGoogle Scholar
  8. Anderson MJ, ter Braak CJF (2003) Permutation tests for multi-factorial analysis of variance. J St Cmp Sm 73:85–113Google Scholar
  9. Ansell AD (1995) Surface activity of some benthic invertebrate prey in relation to the foraging activity of juvenile flatfishes. In: Eleftheriou A, Ansell AD, Smith CJ (eds) Biology and ecology of shallow coastal waters, Proceedings of the 28th European Marine Biology Symposium, Institute of Marine Biology, Crete. Fredensborg: Olsen and Olsen, pp 245–252Google Scholar
  10. Bell SS, Woodin SA (1984) Community unity: experimental evidence from meiofauna and macrofauna. J Mar Res 42:605–632CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Bonsdorff E, Mattila J, Ronn C, Osterman CS (1986) Multidimensional interactions in shallow soft-bottom ecosystems: testing the competitive exclusion principle. Ophelia Suppl 4:37–44Google Scholar
  12. Bray JR, Curtis JT (1957) An ordination of the upland forest communities of southern Wisconsin. Ecol Monogr 27:325–349CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Chardy P, Dauvin JC (1992) Carbon flows in a subtidal fine sand community from the western English Channel: a simulation analysis. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 81:147–161CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Chardy P, Gros P, Mercier H, Monbet Y (1993) Benthic carbon budgets for the Bay of Sant Brieuc (western channel): application of inverse method. Oceanol Acta 16:687–694Google Scholar
  15. Choat JH (1982) Fish feeding and the structure of benthic communities in temperate waters. Ann Rev Ecol Syst 13:31–42CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Choat JH, Kingett PD (1982) The influence of fish predation on the abundance cycles of an algal turf invertebrate fauna. Oecologia 54:88–95CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Clarke KR (1993) Non-parametric multivariate analyses of changes in community structure. Aust J Ecol 181:103–122Google Scholar
  18. Clarke KR, Warwick RM (1994) Change in marine communities: an approach to statistical analysis and interpretation. Natural Environment Research Council, PlymouthGoogle Scholar
  19. Commito JA, Shrader PB (1985) Benthic community response to experimental additions of the polychaete Nereis virens. Mar Biol 86:101–107CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Commito JA, Tita G (2002) Differential dispersal rates in an intertidal meiofauna assemblage. J Exp Mar Biol Ecol 268:237–256CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Como S, Rossi F, Lardicci C (2004) Response of deposit-feeders to exclusion of epibenthic predators in a Mediterranean intertidal flat. J Exp Mar Biol Ecol 303:157–171CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Connell SD (1997) Exclusion of predatory fish on a coral reef: the anticipation, pre-emption and evaluation of some caging artifacts. J Exp Mar Biol Ecol 213:181–198CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Connell SD (2001) Predatory fish do not always affect the early development of epibiotic assemblages. J Exp Mar Biol Ecol 260:1–12CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Constable AJ (1999) Ecology of benthic macro-invertebrates in soft-sediment environments: a review of progress towards quantitative models and predictions. Aust J Ecol 24:452–476CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Coull BC (1990) Are members of the meiofauna food for higher trophic levels? Trans Am Microsc Soc 109:233–246CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Coull BC, Wells JBJ (1982) Refuges from fish predation: experiments with phytal meiofauna from the New Zealand rocky intertidal. Ecology 64:1599–1609CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Coull BC, Greenwood JG, Fielder DR, Coull BA (1995) Subtropical Australian juvenile fish eat meiofauna: experiments with winter whiting Sillago maculata and observations on other species. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 125:13–19CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Danovaro R, Fraschetti S (2002) Meiofaunal vertical zonation on rocky-bottoms: comparison with soft-bottom meiofauna. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 230:159–169CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Danovaro R, Gambi C, Mirto S (2002) Meiofaunal production and energy transfer efficiency in a seagrass Posidonia oceanica bed in the western Mediterranean. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 234:95–104CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Einbinder S, Perelberg A, Ben-Shaprut O, Foucart MH, Shashar N (2006) Effects of artificial reefs on fish grazing in their vicinity: Evidence from algae presentation experiments. Mar Environ Res 61:110–119CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Escaravage V, Garcia ME, Castel J (1989) The distribution of meiofauna and its contribution to detritic pathway inn tidal flats (Arcachon Bay, France). In: Ros JD (ed) Topics in marine Biology. Sci Mar 53:551–559Google Scholar
  32. Felsinga M, Glencrossa B, Telferb T (2005) Preliminary study on the effects of exclusion of wild fauna from aquaculture cages in a shallow marine environment. Aquaculture 243:159–174CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Fernandes TF, Huxham M, Piper SR (1999) Predator caging experiments: a test of the importance of scale. J Exp Mar Biol Ecol 241:137–154CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Feller RJ (2006) Weak meiofaunal trophic linkages in Crangon crangon and Carcinus maenas. J Exp Mar Biol Ecol 330:274–283CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Gerlach SA (1971) On the importance of marine meiofauna for benthos communities. Oecologia 6:176–190CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  36. Gibbons MJ (1988) Impact of predation by juvenile Clinus superciliosus on phytal meiofauna: are fish important as predators? Mar Ecol Prog Ser 45:13–22CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Gilinsky E (1984) The role of fish predation and spatial heterogeneity in determining benthic community structure. Ecology 65:455–468CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Gregg JC, Fleeger JW (1997) Importance of emerged and suspended meiofauna tot the diet of the darter goby (Gobionellus bolesoma Jordan and Gilbert). J Exp Mar Biol Ecol 209:123–142CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Heip C, Herman PM, Coomans A (1982) The productivity of the marine meiobenthos. Academiae Analecta (Klasse der Wetenschappen) 44:1–20Google Scholar
  40. Heip C, Herman PM, Vincx M (1983) Variability and production of meiobenthos in the Southern Bight of the North Sea. Proc Verb Reun Int Explor Mer 183:51–56Google Scholar
  41. Henry BA, Jenkins GP (1995) The impact of predation by the gridled goby, Nesogobius sp1 on abundances of meiofauna and small macrofauna. J Exp Mar Biol Ecol 191:223–238CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Hicks GFR (1984) Spatio-temporal dynamics of a meiobenthic copepod and the impact of predation-disturbance. J Exp Mar Biol Ecol 8:47–72CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Hindell JJ, Jenkins GJ, Keough MJ (2002) Variability in the numbers of post-settlement King George whiting (Sillaginidae: Sillaginodes punctata, Cuvier) in relation to predation, habitat complexity and artificial cage structure. J Exp Mar Biol Ecol 268:13–31CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Hines AH, Haddon AM, Wiechert LA (1990) Guild structure and foraging impact of blue crab and epibenthic fish in a sub-estuary of Chesapeake Bay. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 67:105–126CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Hixon MA (1997) Effects of reef fishes on corals and algae. In: Birkeland C (ed) Life and death of coral reefs. Chapman and Hall, New York, pp 230–248CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Hoyt M, Fleeger JW, Seibeling R, Feller RJ (2000) Serological estimation of prey-protein gut-residence time and quantification of meal size for grass shrimp consuming meiofaunal copepods. J Exp Mar Biol Ecol 248:105–119CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Irlandi EA, Mehlich ME (1996) The effect of tissue cropping and disturbance by browsing fishes on growth of two species of suspension feeding bivalves. J Exp Mar Biol Ecol 197:279–293CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Lasserre P, Renaud-Mornand J, Castel J (1976) Metabolic activities of meiofaunal communities in a semi-enclosed lagoon: possibilities of trophic competition between meiofauna and mugil fish. In: Persoone G, Jasper E (eds)Proceedings of the 10th European Marine Biology Symposium. Universa Press, Wetteren 2, pp 393–414Google Scholar
  49. Langlois TJ, Anderson MJ, Babcock RC, Kato S (2006) Marine reserves demonstrate trophic interactions across habitats. Oecologia 147:134–140CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Kennelly SJ (1991) Caging experiments to examine the effects of fishes on understorey species in a sublittoral kelp community. J Exp Mar Biol Ecol 147:207–230CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Kent AC, Day RW (1983) Population dynamics of an infaunal polychaete: The effects of predators on an adult-recruit interaction. J Exp Mar Biol Ecol 73:185–203CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Lenihan HS, Micheli F (2001) Soft-sediment communities. In: Bertness MD, Gaines SM, Hixon ME (eds) Marine community ecology. Sinauer Associates, Sunderland, pp 253–287Google Scholar
  53. Macia S (2000) The effects of sea urchin grazing and drift algal blooms on a subtropical seagrass bed community. J Exp Mar Biol Ecol 246:53–67CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Mattila J (1992) Can fish predators regulate benthic communities on shallow soft bottoms in the Baltic Sea? The role of perch, ruffe and roach. PhD thesis, Abo Akademi UniversityGoogle Scholar
  55. Mattila J, Bonsdorff E (1998) Predation by juvenile flounder (Platichthys flesus L.): a test of prey vulnerability, predator preference, switching behavior and functional response. J Exp Mar Biol Ecol 227:221–236CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. McArdle BH, Anderson MJ (2001) Fitting multivariate models to semi-metric distances: a comment on distance-based redundancy analysis. Ecology 82:290–297CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. McArthur VE (1998) Predation and the survival of juvenile Cerastoderma glaucum Bruguiere (Mollusca: Bivalvia) in a coastal lagoon. J Exp Mar Biol Ecol 225:79–97CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. McCall JN (1992) Source of harpacticoid copepods in the diet of juvenile starry flounder. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 86:41–50CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. McIntyre AD (1964) Meiobenthos of sublitoral muds. J Mar Biol Assoc UK 44:665–674CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Menge BA (2000) Top-down and bottom-up community regulation in marine rocky intertidal habitats. J Exp Mar Biol Ecol 250:257–289CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  61. Micheli F (1997) Effects of predator foraging behavior on patterns of prey mortality in marine soft bottoms. Ecol Monogr 67:203–224CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. de Morais T, Bodiou JY (1984) Predation on meiofauna by juvenile fish in a Western Mediterranean flatfish nursery ground. Mar Biol 82:209–215CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. Olaffson E, Elmgren R (1991) Effects of biological disturbance by benthic amphipods Monoporeira affinis on meiobenthic community structure: a laboratory approach. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 74:99–107CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. Peterson CH (1979) Predation, competitive exclusion and diversity in the soft-sediment benthic communities of estuaries and lagoons. In: Livingston RJ (ed) Ecological processes in coastal and marine systems. Plenum, LondonGoogle Scholar
  65. Posey MH, Alphin TD, Cahoon L (2006) Benthic community responses to nutrient enrichment and predator exclusion: influence of background nutrient concentrations and interactive effects. J Exp Mar Biol Ecol 330:105–118CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  66. Quammen ML (1984) Predation by shorebirds, fish and crabs on invertebrates in intertidal mudflats: an experimental test. Ecology 65:529–537CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  67. Raffaelli D, Milne H (1987) An experimental investigation of the effects of shorebird and flatfish predation on estuarine food web. Estuar Coast Shelf Sci 28:149–160CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  68. Reise K (1978) Experiments on epibenthic predation in the Wadden Sea. Helgoland Mar Res 31:55–101Google Scholar
  69. Reise K (1979) Moderate predation on meiofauna by the macrobenthos of the Wadden Sea. Helgoland Mar Res 32:453–465Google Scholar
  70. Richards MG, Huxham M, Bryant A (1999) Predation: a causal mechanism for variability in intertidal bivalve populations. J Exp Mar Biol Ecol 241:159–177CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  71. Sarda R, Foreman K, Werme CE, Valiela I (1998) The impact of epifaunal predation on the structure of macroinfaunal invertebrates communities of tidal saltmarsh creeks. Estuar Coast Shelf Sci 46:657–669CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  72. Schrijvers J, Vincx M (1997) Cage experiments in an East African mangrove forest: a synthesis. J Sea Res 38:123–133CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  73. Schrijvers J, Camargo MG, Pratiwi R, Vincx M (1998) The infaunal macrobenthos under East African Cerips tagal mangroves impacted by epibenthos. J Exp Mar Biol Ecol 222:175–193CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  74. Shaw M, Jenkins GP (1992) Spatial variation in feeding, prey distribution and food limitation of juvenile flounder Rhombosolea tapirina Günther. J Exp Mar Biol Ecol 165:1–21CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  75. Skilleter GA (1994) Refuges from predation and the persistence of estuarine clam populations. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 109:29–42CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  76. Smith LD, Coull BC (1987) Juvenile spot (Pisces) and grass shrimp predation on meiobenthos in muddy and sandy substrata. J Exp Mar Biol Ecol 105:123–136CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  77. Spitzer PM, Mattila J, Heck KL Jr (2000) The effects of vegetation density on the relative growth rates of juvenile pinfish, Lagodon rhomboids (Linneaus), in Big Lagoon, Florida. J Exp Mar Biol Ecol 244:67–86CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  78. Stocker LJ (1986) Artefactual effects of caging on the recruitment and survivorship of a subtidal colonial invertebrate. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 34:305–307CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  79. Thrush SF (1999) Complex role of predators in structuring soft-sediment macrobenthic communities: implications of changes in spatial scale for experimental studies. Aust J Ecol 24:344–354CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  80. Thrush SF, Pridmore RD, Hewitt JE, Cummings VJ (1994) The importance of predators on a sandflat: interplay between seasonal changes in prey density and predators effects. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 107:211–222CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  81. Tita G, Desrosiers G, Vincx M, Nozais C (2000) Predation and sediment disturbance effects of the intertidal polychaetes Nereis virens (Sars) on associated meiofaunal assemblages. J Exp Mar Biol Ecol 243:261–282CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  82. Underwood AJ (2000) Experimental ecology of rocky intertidal habitats: what are we learning? J Exp Mar Biol Ecol 250:51–76CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  83. Warwick RM (1980) Population dynamics and secondary production of the benthos in an estuarine environment. In: Tenore KR, Coull BC (eds) Marine benthic dynamics. University of South Carolina Press, Columbia, pp 1–24Google Scholar
  84. Warwick RM, Joint IR, Radford PJ (1979) Secondary production of the benthos in an estuarine environment. In: Jefferies RL, Davey AJ (eds) Ecological processes in coastal environments. Blackwell Scientific, Oxford, pp 429–450Google Scholar
  85. Warwick RM, Clarke KR, Gee JM (1990) The effect of disturbance by soldier crabs Mictyris platycheles H. Milne Edwards on meiobenthic community structure. J Exp Mar Biol Ecol 135:19–33CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  86. Winer BJ, Brown DR, Michels KM (1991) Statistical principles in experimental brown alga Pseudolithoderma sp. Journal design. Experimental marine biology and ecology, 3rd edn. McGraw-Hill, USA, 1057 pGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  • Roberto Danovaro
    • 1
    Email author
  • Mariaspina Scopa
    • 1
  • Cristina Gambi
    • 1
  • Simonetta Fraschetti
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of Marine SciencePolytechnic University of MarcheAnconaItaly
  2. 2.Department of Biological and Environmental Science and TechnologyUniversity of LecceLecceItaly

Personalised recommendations