Differential Dispersal Rates in an Intertidal Neiofauna Assemblage

Document Type


Publication Date



Environmental Studies


Meiofaunal nematodes and copepods disperse passively with sediment bedload, and copepods also display active emergence and reentry behavior. Epigrowth-feeders may be the nematode feeding group most susceptible to passive transport because they live closest to the sediment surface. We used bottom traps at a nematode-dominated intertidal mudflat in Maine, USA, to test the hypotheses that (1) meiofauna taxa disperse in relative proportions different from those of the ambient community; (2) copepods have the highest relative dispersal rate (number of individuals trap−1 day−1 ambient individual−1) and are not as tightly linked as other taxa to sediment flux; and (3) epigrowth-feeders have the highest nematode relative dispersal rate. Results supported all three hypotheses. Nematodes accounted for 95.8% of the individuals in cores, but only 38.9% of the individuals in traps. Copepods accounted for 1.5% of the individuals in cores, but 56.7% of the individuals in traps. Less common taxa also had different relative proportions in cores and traps, as did nematode feeding groups and individual species. The relative dispersal rate was far higher for copepods than for any other taxonomic group, and the absolute (number of individuals trap−1 day−1) and bulk (number of individuals g sediment−1 trap−1 day−1) dispersal rates for copepods were equal to those of the 65-fold more abundant nematodes and higher than those for all other taxa. The non-selective deposit-feeders were the most abundant nematode feeding group in the ambient community, but the epigrowth-feeders as a group and as individual species had the highest absolute, relative, and bulk dispersal rates. Non-metric multidimensional scaling (MDS) using analysis of similarity (ANOSIM) and species similarity percentages (SIMPER) reflected these differences between ambient and dispersing nematode assemblages. Significant positive regression relationships between sediment weight and the number of individuals captured in traps for nematodes and some other taxa indicated that they moved passively in the bedload. Lack of a significant regression relationship for copepods suggested an active behavioral component to dispersal. Meiofauna populations in this soft-bottom community were highly dynamic, demonstrating that the role of dispersal must be included in any consideration of the ecology of soft-bottom systems at local and regional spatial scales.


Original version is available from the publisher at: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0022098101003860

This item is not available in The Cupola.