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Harpacticoid copepod response to epiphyte load variations in Posidonia oceanica (L.) Delile meadows



Nina Larissa Arroyo, Instituto Mediterráneo de Estudios Avanzados, IMEDEA (UIB-CSIC), Miquel Marqués 21, 07190 Esporles, Mallorca, Islas Baleares, Spain.



We conducted a field experiment to assess the response of phytal harpacticoids to nutrient-driven increases of epiphyte load in Posidonia oceanica meadows. First, we evaluated differences in species richness, diversity and assemblage structure of phytal harpacticoids in P. oceanica meadows with differing epiphyte loads. Secondly, we conducted a field experiment where epiphyte load was increased through an in situ addition of nutrients to the water column and evaluated the responses of the harpacticoid assemblages. We predicted that there would be changes in the harpacticoid assemblages as a result of nutrient-driven increases of epiphyte load, and that these changes would be of a larger magnitude in meadows of low epiphyte load. Our results show that the harpacticoid fauna (>500 μm) present in P. oceanica meadows in the Bay of Palma comprised taxa which are considered phytal and other less abundant ones previously described as sediment dwellers or commensal on other invertebrate species. Nutrient addition had an overall significant effect on epiphyte biomass and on harpacticoid abundance, diversity and assemblage structure, possibly as a response to the increased resources and habitat complexity provided by epiphytes. The abundance of dominant species at each location was favoured by nutrient addition and in some cases correlated with epiphytic biomass, although never strongly. This may indicate that structural complexity or diversity of the epiphytic cover might be more important than the actual epiphytic biomass for the harpacticoid species investigated. More species-specific studies are necessary to ascertain this and clarify the relationships between harpacticoids and epiphytes in seagrass meadows. To our knowledge, this is the first account of harpacticoid species associated with P. oceanica leaves and the epiphytic community they harbour in the Mediterranean Sea.