Microphytobenthic primary production in intertidal sediments: does meiofauna matter?
Soft intertidal sediments are among the most productive systems in the world. Nematodes are usually the most abundant and diverse metazoans in these ecosystems, reaching densities up to several million ind/m². Despite their abundance, there still is considerable debate as to whether and how they affect ecosystem functions. In intertidal sediments, primary production is usually dominated by microphytobenthos (MPB), forming the base of the food web. The effect of nematodes on the production, activity and community structure of MPB and bacteria is still largely unknown. Nematodes may, for instance, affect primary production and sediment stability through direct grazing on MPB and bacteria, through bioturbation and excretion of nutrient rich compounds. This research aims at uncovering the contribution of nematodes to ecosystem functions such as primary production and sediment stability. Moreover, we intend to elucidate the mechanisms behind this effect and examine the effect of nematode functional diversity.