Diel depth distributions of microbenthos in tidal creek sediments: high resolution mapping in fluorescently labeled embedded cores
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Intertidal sediments experience substantial changes in temperature, salinity, and solar irradiation over short time periods. We applied the Fluorescently Labeled Embedded Core (FLEC) technique to map distribution patterns of microbenthos in tidal creek sediments. Our aims were to determine if micro-scale distributions varied over the course of a day and to test the null hypothesis that microbenthos are randomly distributed. Eight samples were collected at 3 h intervals from an intertidal sandflat on Sapelo Island, Georgia, USA. Cores were incubated with CellTracker Green (CMFDA, hereafter, CTG), a fluorogenic compounds that accumulates in metabolically active cells. Cores were embedded with epoxy and examined with laser scanning confocal microscopy. Image analysis was used to map the vertical locations of active microbenthos, which in these sediments consisted of benthic microalgae (BMA), ciliates, and flagellates. Microbenthos were abundant over the entire depth profiled (2 cm), although O2 microelectrode profiles indicate that only the top 3 mm of sediment was oxygenated during high light (1,000 μE m−2 s−1). More than 91% of organisms mapped were <22 μm in diameter and, based upon size and cell appearance, were BMA. Microbenthos accumulated in the top 1 mm at 0800 and 1100 h, corresponding to both low tide and high solar irradiation. This pattern conforms to BMA migratory rhythms determined by other methods. The standardized Morisita’s Index of dispersion determined that CTG-positive objects were significantly clumped at all time points and at each of the three spatial scales examined. This clumping pattern likely results from the heterogeneous distribution of resources, such as prey items for phagotrophs and dissolved nutrients or growth substrates for autotrophs or heterotrophs.
KeywordsTidal creeks Sapelo Island Salt marsh Microzoobenthos Microphytobenthos Migrations Ciliates Meiofauna Embedded cores
This study was supported by NSF Georgia Coastal Ecosystems LTER grant (OCE-9982133). J. Bernhard critically reviewed an earlier draft of this manuscript. S. Joye was generous with the use of her microelectrode probes and provided guidance for this study. We are grateful for the hospitality and logistical support of J. Garbisch and M. Price at the University of Georgia Marine Institute (UGAMI). J. Bernhard, M. Farmer, S. Joye and C. Meile provided guidance on the design of this project. D. Di Iorio and P. McKay (Dept. Marine Sci., UGA) assisted with the CTD. C. Fleisher (Geology Dept., UGA) advised and assisted on the diamond saw operation. C. Keith and J. Shields (Center for Ultrastructural Research, UGA) assisted with confocal microscope operation. M.R.F. was supported by a UGA Graduate School Assistantship. This is contribution no. 957 from UGAMI.
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