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Shallow Water Communities - Meiofauna


Most benthic invertebrates are quite small and can be clearly distinguished only with the aid of magnification. The smallest are the meiobenthos, which will pass through a 500 μm mesh screen, but are retained on 63 or 45 μm screen. The majority of recognized animal phyla (20 out of 34) have meiofauna representatives, but of these twenty phyla, only five are exclusively meiofaunal.  Important taxa of meiobenthos in shallow water estuarine and coastal marine habitats include harpactacoid copepods, nematodes, ostracods and Foraminfera. Some animals, such as annelids and bivalves, that typically grow larger are meiofaunal size as juveniles.  They are known as “temporary meiofauna.”

Meiofauna are an important component of benthic habitats due to their small size, abundance and rapid turnover rates. They exhibit high abundance, diversity and productivity in many sedimentary habitats and play important roles in benthic food webs. The secondary production of meiofauna may equal or exceed that of macrofauna. Meiofauna feed on benthic microalgae, other microbes, and detrital food sources and are, in turn, important food resources for grass shrimp and a variety of juvenile fish that utilize shallow water nursery habitats. Through their feeding and burrowing activities, meiofauna help to keep microbial communities active, which serves to enhance productivity and the recycling of nutrients.

Meiofauna have been used as environmental indicators of human activities and pollution.  Pollutant effects on meiofauna have been shown to depend on pollutant type, the biology of the organisms themselves, exposure levels and environmental setting. Nematodes are relatively insensitive to anthropogenic disturbances, while harpacticoid copepods and Foraminifera are considered to be pollution sensitive taxa.

To learn more about meiofauna of estuarine and coastal marine habitats refer to the following:

Coull, B. C. 1999. Role of meiofauna in estuarine soft-bottom habitats. Australian Journal of Ecology 24: 327–343.

Heip, C., Vincx, M., Vranken, G., 1985. The ecology of marine nematodes. Oceanography and Marine Biology: An Annual Review 23: 99-489.

Higgins, R. P., Thiel, H. (1988). Introduction to the study of meiofauna. Smithsonian Institution Press.

Giere, O. (1993). Meiobenthology: The microscopic fauna in aquatic sediments. Springer-Verlag, Berlin.

International Association of Meiobenthologists. 2007. Meiobenthology.




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