Tidal flats are biogeomorphic landscapes, shaped by physical forces and interaction with benthic biota. We used a metabolic approach to assess the overarching effect of bioturbators on tidal landscapes. The benthic bivalve common cockle (Cerastoderma edule) was used as model organism. The effect of C. edule on sediment resuspension was approximated as a function of the overall population metabolic rate per unit of area. We combined i) laboratory observations on how C. edule affect sediment resuspension along gradients of bioturbation activity, sediment cohesiveness and hydrodynamic force with ii) spatial data on the natural distribution of intertidal C. edule populations. This allowed us to build an integrated model of the C. edule effect on sediment resuspension along the tidal gradient. Owing to the temperature dependence of metabolic rate, the model also accounted for seasonal variation in bioturbators activity. Laboratory experiments indicated that sediment resuspension is positively related to the metabolic rate of the C. edule population especially in cohesive sediments. Based on this observation, we predicted a clear spatial and seasonal pattern in the relative importance of C. edule contribution to sediment resuspension along a tidal transect. At lower elevations, our model indicates that hydrodynamics overrules biotic effects; at higher elevations, inter-tidal hydrodynamics should be too low to suspend bioturbated sediments. The influence of C. edule on sediment resuspension is expected to be maximal at the intermediate elevation of a mudflat, owing to the combination of moderate hydrodynamic stress and high bioturbator activity. Also, bio-mediated sediment resuspension is predicted to be particularly high in the warm season. Research into metabolic dependency of bio-mediated sediment resuspension may help to place phenomenological observations in the broader framework of metabolic theories in ecology and to formulate general expectations on the coastal ecosystem functioning.
Bibliographical noteAccepted author manuscript
- Sediment composition