Determination of the food sources and of the role of meiofauna in soft-bottom intertidal habitats of the Marennes-Oléron Bay, France, and the Sylt-Rømø Bight, Germany. Importance of themicrophytobenthos-meiofauna pathway, highlighted by community structure, trophic markers and linear inverse food web models.
Meiofauna play an important role in ecosystem processes in soft-bottom benthic habitats, e.g. food web dynamics, related to their high production, their intermediate trophic position and the energy they transfer towards higher trophic levels. The trophic linkages and flows of organic matter related to the meiofauna remain poorly known or taken into account. To better assess the role of meiofauna, the community structure and trophic relationships between food sources and meiofauna were determined in five intertidal soft-bottom habitats (i.e., mudflat, seagrass bed, sandflat) of the Marennes-Oléron Bay, France, and the Sylt-Rømø Bight, Germany, taking temporal variations into account. Meiofauna communities were dominated by nematodes and benthic copepods. Biomass of microphytobenthos and of sediment organic matter were two of the major drivers of community structure. The combination of trophic markers (i.e., stable isotopes, fatty acids) demonstrated that microphytobenthos and bacteria were the major food sources of meiofauna in the five habitats. Information from community structure assessments and trophic marker analyses were implemented in food web models. In all habitats, these models demonstrated that the main flow of carbon to meiofauna originated from microphytobenthos, highlighting negligible changes in meiofauna feeding behavior besides the large differences in availability and productivity of food sources between these habitats. All trophic groups of nematodes, except for selective deposit feeding nematodes, were highly selective and mainly fed on microphytobenthos, resulting in a high production and a short turn-over time of meiofauna. In conclusion, this thesis demonstrated the important role of meiofauna in soft-bottom habitats as well as the importance of the trophic pathway from microphytobenthos to meiofauna in the functioning of these food webs.
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