Marine Biology

, Volume 148, Issue 1, pp 73–86 | Cite as

A field colonization experiment with meiofauna and seagrass mimics: effect of time, distance and leaf surface area

  • M. De TrochEmail author
  • L. Vandepitte
  • M. Raes
  • E. Suàrez-Morales
  • M. Vincx
Research Article


From a conservation point of view, it is essential to know how fast an ecosystem can recover after physical disturbance. Meiofauna and especially harpacticoid copepods are abundant in seagrass beds and are therefore useful to study ecosystem recovery after disturbance. In the western Caribbean coast, a fragmented Thalassia testudinum seagrass bed was selected to conduct a colonization field experiment by means of plastic seagrass mimics. Meiofauna colonization, with special emphasis on harpacticoid copepods, was followed in relation to: (1) colonization time (2, 4, 6, 10, 14 and 21 days); (2) distance to source of colonizers (close and far series) and (3) leaf surface area to colonize (small, medium, large). Colonization was recorded after 2 days with average meiofauna densities of 480 ind/100 cm2 (close) and 1350 ind/100 cm2 (far) of leaf surface area, while on average 400 ind/100 cm2 were collected from the natural seagrass plants. In this early phase, the meiofauna diversity was high, with on average 8 taxa. A longer period of colonization (21 days) showed an increased meiofaunal density and diversity (average density: 3220 ind/100 cm2, 13 taxa). Increasing meiofauna colonization with time is probably related to the development of a biofilm making the leaf more attractive for meiofauna. The effect of distance was not so pronounced as that of time. Total absolute densities were highest in the far series (5 m away from natural seagrass patch), mainly because of nematode densities. Meiofauna diversity was lower in the far series than in the close series (at the border of the natural seagrass patch). A larger individual leaf surface area did not affect the overall meiofauna densities but had a significant positive effect on copepod densities. Larger surface areas promoted the presence of epiphytic copepod families such as Tegastidae and Dactylopusiidae. Overall, we found a rapid recovery of meiofauna in fragmented seagrass beds with primary colonizers (both nematodes and benthic opportunistic copepods) originating from the sediment and later colonizers as epiphytic copepods and their nauplii from the local seagrass regeneration pool.


Meiofauna Harpacticoid Copepod Leaf Surface Area Harpacticoids Copepod Community 
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The authors thank the director and the staff of El Colegio de la Frontera Sur (ECOSUR, Chetumal) for their logistic support. Special collecting permit was granted by the director of Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve, Dr. Alfredo Arellano. Dr. Brigitta Van Tussenbroek (Unidad Académica Puerto Morelos) kindly provided data on leaf sizes of T. testudinum from the sampling site. A special word of thanks for Guy De Smet for his efficient assistance in the field. The authors thank Dr. Tom Moens for his constructive criticism on the manuscript. The referee comments of Prof. Dr. S.S. Bell and Dr. R. Virnstein were very valuable and highly appreciated. The first author acknowledges a postdoctoral fellowship provided by the Fund for Scientific Research (FWO-Flanders, Belgium). The third author receives an aspirant grant from the same Fund. The FWO-Flanders provided additional support for a study stay in Mexico of the first author to conduct these field experiments. Further financial support was received from Ghent University (Belgium) (contract BOF 98-03, 12050398) and FWO research program 3 G.0199.03.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  • M. De Troch
    • 1
    Email author
  • L. Vandepitte
    • 1
  • M. Raes
    • 1
  • E. Suàrez-Morales
    • 2
  • M. Vincx
    • 1
  1. 1.Biology Department, Marine Biology SectionGhent UniversityGhentBelgium
  2. 2.El Colegio de la Frontera Sur (ECOSUR)Chetumal-BacalarMexico

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