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Microscale oxygen distribution in various invertebrate burrow walls


Corresponding author: M. Gingras. Tel.: 011 780 492 1963; fax: 011 780 492 2030; e-mail:


Profiles of dissolved oxygen were measured in pore waters of unburrowed sediment and the burrow walls of seven invertebrate dwellings. Burrows studied include those of Corophium volutator, Heteromastus filiformis, Arenicola marina, Saccoglossus bromophenolosus, Clymenella sp., Hemigrapsus oregonensis and Cirriformia luxuriosa all from mudflats in Willapa Bay, Washington. These animals comprise a range of burrow architectures ranging from simple, unlined burrows to more complex, mucous lined burrows. Oxygen penetrated unburrowed sediment between depths of 0.4–2.6 mm, whereas oxygen penetrated the burrow walls from 0.3 mm to 2.3 mm. Three groups of burrows are recognized based on the oxygen diffusive properties relative to the unburrowed sediment including those that: (1) slightly impeded oxygen penetration, (2) clearly inhibited oxygen penetration, and (3) enhanced oxygen penetration. Differences in the diffusive properties of the burrow wall are related to the burrow microstructure and presumably the microbial communities living within the burrow microenvironment. The results of this study suggest that burrow shape and burrow-wall architecture may play an important role in controlling the diffusion of oxygen, and possibly of other dissolved gases (i.e. CO2, H2S). The results further demonstrate that simplified assumptions (i.e. that bioturbation uniformly enhances oxygen diffusion into suboxic and anoxic sediments), while requisite for numerical modelling, are not necessarily representative of field data.