Factors affecting meiofaunal colonization and assemblage structure in marine soft sediments

  • Author / Creator
    Boeckner, Matthew J.
  • Meiofauna are an abundant, diverse and important component of the marine biota, however, much of their ecology has been neglected. Despite their high densities, meiofaunal abundance is often patchy. Meiofauna present in high numbers at one site will often be less abundant in seemingly similar adjacent sites. What factors govern this variability? How readily do these animals colonize new patches? How do various biological and environmental factors affect meiofaunal colonization rate and resulting assemblage structure? The response of meiofauna to changes in abiotic factors, including sediment grain size, depth, exposure and distance from the ocean floor, was quite variable. Often one factor would affect certain taxa and not others. Even slight increases in depth resulted in drastic declines of harpacticoid copepods while nematodes were unaffected. Meiofauna were also fewer in sediments with large interstitial spaces. Some meiofauna were most abundant in sediments placed closer to the ocean floor. Other taxa colonized distant substrata as rapidly as they did substrate located closer to the ocean floor. This suggested differences between taxa in their rates of active dispersal. The effects of macrofauna on meiofauna have been debated. In particular, how do clams affect the colonization and assemblage structure of meiofauna? Certain characteristics of clams were isolated and evaluated: feeding behaviour, bioturbation rate/depth and metabolic byproducts. Clams that caused the greatest meiofauna declines were shallow burrowing deposit-feeders. Constant disturbance to the upper sediment by these clams was likely responsible for meiofaunal impact. Conversely, suspensionfeeding clams that passed quickly to deeper sediment and remained stationary had little impact on meiofauna. Finally, a survey of local marine nematodes added nine genera new to Canada and 24 genera new to British Columbia. A review was also compiled that shows nematodes and other meiofauna have been neglected for much of Canada. Although these small and abundant animals are quick to colonize even distant habitats they are quite sensitive to cues from the surrounding biotic and abiotic environment. This sensitivity combined with their ease of collection make meiofauna a valuable asset to any number of ecological investigations.

  • Subjects / Keywords
  • Graduation date
  • Type of Item
  • Degree
    Doctor of Philosophy
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  • License
    This thesis is made available by the University of Alberta Libraries with permission of the copyright owner solely for non-commercial purposes. This thesis, or any portion thereof, may not otherwise be copied or reproduced without the written consent of the copyright owner, except to the extent permitted by Canadian copyright law.
  • Language
  • Institution
    University of Alberta
  • Degree level
  • Department
    • Department of Biological Sciences
  • Supervisor / co-supervisor and their department(s)
    • Proctor, Heather (Biological Sciences)
    • Palmer, A. Rich (Biological Sciences)
  • Examining committee members and their departments
    • Shurin, Jonathan (Biological Sciences, University of British Columbia)
    • Douglas, Marianne (Earth and Atmospheric Sciences)
    • Vinebrooke, Rolf (Biological Sciences)