Ecological Engineering: The biogeochemical implications of faunal species loss in coastal sediments.

William Hunter, Nessa O'Connor

Research output: Contribution to conferenceAbstractpeer-review


Coastal and shallow seas cover 7 % of the global seafloor but account for around 80 % of carbon dioxide fixation and burial in the oceans. Consequently, they are important in the regulation of atmospheric carbon dioxide and marine nutrient cycles. Coastal ecosystems are sensitive to human-induced pressure from fisheries and pollution resulting in faunal species loss. In marine sediments, microbial activity is the biogeochemcial “engine” driving carbon fixation, recycling and burial. Yet bacterial activity is mediated by a faunal “gearbox” through processes such as bioturbation and deposit-feeding. Faunal species loss will, therefore, have indirect effects upon primary production by the microphytobenthos (primarily diatoms and cyanobacteria) at the sediment surface, and the recycling of organic matter by heterotrophic microorganisms. We conducted mesocosm-based experiments to test how changes in the presence/absence of three ecosystem engineers, the shore crab (Carcinus maenas), the ragworm (Alitta virens) and lugworm (Arenicola marina), affected micro-algal carbon fixation at the sediment surface, and the retention and transfer of newly fixed carbon within the sediment community. We used stable-isotope pulse chase techniques to trace the fixation of dissolved inorganic carbon (13C-labelled sodium bicarbonate) by the microphytobenthos and its preservation as sedimentary organic matter, alongside changes in sediment community respiration, primary production and dissolved nutrient fluxes. Here we will discuss the results of these experiments and the mechanisms through which faunal species-loss alters carbon cycling and ecosystem functioning in coastal sediment ecosystems.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 2016
EventEcology & Evolution Ireland Conference - Sligo Institute of Technology, Sligo, Ireland
Duration: 25 Nov 201626 Nov 2016
Conference number: 1


ConferenceEcology & Evolution Ireland Conference


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