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Ecology of Marine SedimentsFrom Science to Management$
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John S. Gray and Michael Elliott

Print publication date: 2009

Print ISBN-13: 9780198569015

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: November 2020

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780198569015.001.0001

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The Soft-Sediment Benthos in the Ecosystem

The Soft-Sediment Benthos in the Ecosystem

(p.157) Chapter 10 The Soft-Sediment Benthos in the Ecosystem
Ecology of Marine Sediments

John S. Gray

Michael Elliott

Oxford University Press

The benthos does not, of course, live in isolation from other parts of the ecosystem. Here we consider the roles that the benthos plays in the system and how the complex interactions that are found can be modelled using ecosystem models. First, we examine methods that allow us to establish food webs based not only on examining each species in the field and in laboratory feeding studies, but also using stable isotopes of carbon and nitrogen to ascertain the likely feeding mode of a species. It is relatively easy to determine the mode of feeding of some benthic organisms (see for example the excellent review of Fauchald and Jumars 1979, although this is now slightly dated and requires revision). Polychaetes have characteristic feeding structures, so one can determine from their morphology whether they are filter feeders, deposit feeders, or predators. Bivalves show similar morphological characteristics and it is easy to determine whether they are deposit or filter feeders. Some polychaetes have large jaws, e.g. the nereids, and one might assume that they are predators. Yet when Nereis vexillosa was studied in detail (Woodin 1977), it was found that it attached pieces of algae to its tube, which grew and were used for food, so-called ´gardening´. Nereids also are able to filter feed by creating a mucous bag and pumping water through their burrows, which filters the water; the mucous bag is then consumed. More recently, studies have shown varied and possibly opportunistic feeding by different benthic species; for example Christensen et al. (2000) showed how the suspension- and deposit-feeding abilities of nereids influenced sediment nutrient fluxes. These studies show that it is perhaps not so straightforward as once thought to interpret feeding mode simply from morphological features. The definition of functional groups and feeding guilds is increasingly used to help explain and interpret ecological functioning (e.g. Elliott et al. 2007 discuss the rationale behind functional groups). The eminent and immensely experienced benthic biologist Tom Pearson (2001) shows in detail that while the concept of functional groups gives us a greater understanding of the benthos, the idea is criticized by some as we do not have sufficient information about feeding types and modes of life of many benthic species.

Keywords:   bivalves, brittle stars, carbon, carbon isotopes, climate changes, coastal systems, communities, copepods, cumaeans, deep sea, deposit feeders, detritus, diatoms, feeding, flagellates, flow networks, food webs, freshwater, functional guilds, gametes, homogenization, nutrients, omnivores, opportunist species, organic enrichment, organic matter, polychaetes, predation, rare species, rays

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