Seagrass Patch Complexity Affects Macroinfaunal Community Structure in Intertidal Areas: An In Situ Experiment Using Seagrass Mimics
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SourceDiversity, Vol. 13, Núm. 11
Seagrasses, as key ecosystem engineers in coastal ecosystems, contribute to enhancing diversity in comparison with nearby bare areas. It has been proved mainly for epifauna, but data on infauna are still scarce. The present study addresses how seagrass structural complexity (i.e., canopy properties) affects the diversity of infaunal organisms inhabiting those meadows. Canopy attributes were achieved using seagrass mimics, which were used to construct in situ vegetation patches with two contrasting canopy properties (i.e., shoot density and morphology) resembling the two seagrass species thriving in the inner Cadiz Bay: Zostera noltei and Cymodocea nodosa. After three months, bare nearby areas, two mimicked seagrass patches ('Zostera' and 'Cymodocea'), and the surrounding natural populations of Zostera noltei were sampled in a spatially explicit way. Shifts in organism diets were also determined using N-15 and C-13 analyses in available food sources and main infaunal organisms, mixing models, and niche metrics (standard ellipse area). Seagrass-mimicked habitats increased the species richness (two-fold), organism abundance (three to four times), and functional diversity compared with bare nearby areas. The clam Scrobicularia plana (deposit/filter feeder) and the worm Hediste diversicolor (omnivore) were dominant in all of the samples (> 85%) and showed an opposite spatial distribution in the reconstructed patches: whilst S. plana accumulated in the outer-edge parts of the meadow, H. diversicolor abounded in the center. Changes in the isotopic signature of both species depending on the treatment suggest that this faunal distribution was associated with a shift in the diet of the organisms. Based on our results, we concluded that facilitation processes (e.g., reduction in predation and in bioturbation pressures) and changes in food availability (quality and quantity) mediated by seagrass canopies were the main driving forces structuring this community in an intertidal muddy area of low diversity.