Significance of Copepod Emergence of Benthic, Pelagic, and Phytal Linkages in a Subtidal Seagrass Bed

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Benthic-pelagic-phytal coupling, Emergence, Meiobenthic copepods, Seagrass, Resettlement


The role of meiobenthic copepod emergence in linkages among benthic, pelagic, and phytal habitats was examined in a subtidal seagrass (Thalassia testudinum) bed at the mouth of Tampa Bay, Florida, USA on 4 dates the ability of emerging copepods to affect the density and composition of benthic and phytal assemblages was tested during 2 h periods of minimum and maximum emergence. Copepod exchanges between benthic and phytal habitats and the duration of pelagic excursions also were examined throughout a night by measuring settlement into 2 types of sediment traps and onto natural and defaunated seagrass blades. The ability of emerging fauna to disperse through the water column was determined from horizontal collectors. Changes in copepod densities and composition during periods of active emergence did not indicate an unequivocal exchange between sediment and seagrass blade assemblages. Copepod resettlement onto the sediments was greater during periods of increased emergence and suggested that emerging copepods typically did not remain in the water column for a prolonged (> 2 h) time. The dispersal of copepods through the water column was haphazard and unaffected by prevailing currents. Species and habitat affiliation influenced both the dispersal and settlement behaviors of emerging copepods. Although appreciable numbers of sediment-associated copepods can enter and disperse through the water column, our results suggest that the effects of emergence on linkages between benthic, pelagic, and phytal habitats are minimal or limited in duration.

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Marine Ecology Progress Series, v. 108, issue 3, p. 237-249