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PhD ceremony Ms. S. Donadi: Bivalve loops. The importance of ecosystem engineering for soft-bottom intertidal ecosystems

When:Fr 15-11-2013 at 16:15
Where:Academiegebouw, Broerstraat 5, Groningen

PhD ceremony: Ms. S. Donadi

Dissertation: Bivalve loops. The importance of ecosystem engineering for soft-bottom intertidal ecosystems

Promotor(s): prof. B.K. Eriksson, prof. J.L. Olsen

Faculty: Mathematics and Natural Sciences

Evidence from both terrestrial and marine ecosystems demonstrates that ecosystem engineers strongly affect natural communities and ecosystem properties by modifying physical conditions. With a large-scale experiment Serena Donadi investigated interactive effects of three common marine engineers (cockles, Cerastoderma edule L., lugworms, Arenicola marina L., and mussels, Mytilus edulis L.) on the functioning and community structure of an intertidal ecosystem. She manipulated a total of 2.400 m2 by adding 64.000 lugworms and 800.000 cockles to different 25 m2 plots, both in the plumes of biodeposits created by mussel beds and in sandy areas without mussels.

Donadi found that interactive engineering effects of cockles, mussels and lugworms significantly affected primary producers, bivalve recruitment and the functional composition of the macrobenthic community. Specifically, cockles and mussel beds facilitated phytobenthic production and bivalve recruitment by decreasing sediment erosion. Cockle beds increased sediment stability locally, while mussel reefs alleviated hydrodynamic stress on larger scales. Furthermore, through opposite effects on sediment organic matter content and bed level stability, cockles, lugworms and mussels together increased habitat heterogeneity, which eventually led to niche partitioning among different functional groups of the macrobenthic community. The results of Donadi demonstrate that changes in environmental conditions caused by the interaction of species-specific engineering effects of cockles, lugworms and mussels translate to large-scale changes in the community structure and ecosystem functioning, and highlight the role of engineering bivalves in structuring soft-bottom intertidal ecosystems.

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