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Benthic species as mud patrol ‐ modelled effects of bioturbators and biofilms on large‐scale estuarine mud and morphology

Earth Surface Processes and Landforms


Sediment‐stabilizing and ‐destabilizing organisms, i.e. microphytobenthos (biofilms) and macrozoobenthos (bioturbators), affect the erodibility of muddy sediments, potentially altering large‐scale estuarine morphology. Using a novel eco‐morphodynamic model of an idealized estuary, we investigate eco‐engineering effects of microphytobenthos and two macrozoobenthic bioturbators. Local mud erodibility is based on species pattern predicted through hydrodynamics, soil mud content, competition and grazing.

Mud resuspension and export is enhanced under bioturbation and prevented under biostabilization through respective exposure and protection of the supra‐ and intertidal. Bioturbation decreases mud thickness and bed elevations, which increases net mud fluxes. Microphytobenthos reduces erosion, leading to a local mud increase of intertidal sediments.

In multi‐species scenarios, an effective mud‐prone bioturbator strongly alters morphology, exceeding that of a more abundant sand‐prone moderate species, showing that morphological change depends on species traits as opposed to abundance. Altering their habitat, the effective mud‐prone bioturbator facilitates expansion of the sand‐prone moderate bioturbator. Grazing and species competition favor species distributions of dominant bioturbators. Consequently, eco‐engineering affects habitat conditions while species interactions determine species dominance.

Our results show that eco‐engineering species determine the mud content of the estuary, which suggests large effects on the morphology of estuaries with aggravating habitat degradation.

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Muriel Z.M. Brückner, Christian Schwarz, Giovanni Coco, Anne Baar, Márcio Boechat Albernaz, Maarten G. Kleinhans

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About the project

Estuaries shaped by biomorphodynamics, inherited landscape conditions and human interference

To develop models for large-scale planform shape and size of sandy estuaries and predict past and future, large-scale effects of biomorphological interactions and inherited conditions

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