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Structure and functioning of the benthic communities in the extreme dynamic intertidal mudflats along the Guianas coasts : trophic fate of the infauna

Abstract : Locating between the Amazon and Orinoco Rivers, the 1500 km-long Atlantic coastline of South America are considered as the muddiest areas in the world due to the large discharge of suspended sediment from the Amazon. Despite the extreme morphodynamics of these ecosystems, the Guianas mudflats are important feeding zones for many shorebirds and fish. However, the state of knowledge on benthic organisms associated with these highly unstable environments is still at an exploratory stage. This study, therefore, aims to describe the structure and dynamics of the intertidal benthic infauna in the Guianas mudflats and to define its functioning in such highly unstable tropical muddy environments. As expected, the high instability of the sediment resulted in very low diversity of both macrofauna and meiofauna assemblages. Nonetheless, the infauna communities of the Guianas mudflats showed remarkably high abundance with the predominance of small-sized opportunistic species. A total of 39 operational taxonomic units of macrofauna was recorded while meiofauna was less diverse with the occurrence of 34 taxa. The tanaid Halmyrapseudes spaansi and the polychaeta Sigambra grubii are the two most abundant macrofauna species, which widely distributed along the Guianas coast. Likewise, the nematodes epistrate feeder Pseudochromadora spp. and non-deposit feeders Halomonhystera sp. 1 were the principal components of meiofauna communities in every station. The distribution patterns of the infauna were both site-specific and seasonal variation. The assemblages in estuarine habitat were more diverse than in the bare mudflat habitat, while infauna abundances in the WS were always higher than in the DS. Both abiotic and biotic factors significantly influenced the benthic communities. Nevertheless, the changes in benthic community structure induced by food source availability (chl a) and predation pressure were more prominent than the assemblage variations imposed by abiotic parameters (mud content, salinity…). Particularly, the tight coupling between meiofauna and MPB was observed in both distribution patterns and trophic structures. The isotopic measurements of different intertidal compartments not only revealed the pivotal role of MPB on structuring meiofaunal coummunities, but also indicated the ecological importance of meiofauna as the main food source for the small shorebirds and coastal fish. Meiofauna and MPB entered the diet of three coastal fish in great proportion, whereas the migrating shorebirds showed a wider diet breadth. The isotopic ratios were perfectly matched with the feeding guilds assigned by morphological features. However, the relative contribution of tanaids to the top epibenthic predators were surprisingly lower than expected. The thesis has increased our understanding of the Guianas infauna communities, and revealed for the first time a conceptual food web model of these unique intertidal mudflats.
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Thanh Hien Nguyen. Structure and functioning of the benthic communities in the extreme dynamic intertidal mudflats along the Guianas coasts : trophic fate of the infauna. Ecosystems. Université de La Rochelle, 2018. English. ⟨NNT : 2018LAROS009⟩. ⟨tel-02009850⟩

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