What is bioturbation? The need for a precise definition for fauna in aquatic sciences

Erik Kristensen, Gil Penha-Lopes, Matthieu Delefosse, Thomas Bruun Valdemarsen, Cintia Organo Quintana, Gary Banta

Publikation: Bidrag til tidsskriftTidsskriftartikelForskningpeer review


The term ‘bioturbation’ is frequently used to describe how living organisms affect the substratum in which they live. A closer look at the aquatic science literature reveals, however, an inconsistent usage of the term with increasing perplexity in recent years. Faunal disturbance has often been referred to as particle reworking, while water movement (if considered) is re ferred to as bioirrigation in many cases. For consistency, we therefore propose that, for contemporary aquatic scientific disciplines, faunal bioturbation in aquatic environments includes all transport processes carried out by animals that directly or indirectly affect sediment matrices. These processes include both particle reworking and burrow ventilation. With this definition, bioturbation acts as an ‘umbrella’ term that covers all transport processes and their physical effects on the substratum. Particle reworking occurs through burrow construction and maintenance, as well as
ingestion and defecation, and causes biomixing of the substratum. Organic matter and microorganisms are thus displaced vertically and laterally within the sediment matrix. Particle reworking animals can be categorized as biodiffusors, upward conveyors, downward conveyors and regenerators depending on their behaviour, life style and feeding type. Burrow ventilation occurs when animals flush their open- or blind-ended burrows with overlying water for respiratory and feeding
purposes, and it causes advective or diffusive bioirrigation ex change of solutes between the sediment pore water and the overlying water body. Many bioturbating species perform reworking and ventilation simultaneously. We also propose that the effects of bioturbation on other organisms and associated processes (e.g. microbial driven biogeochemical transformations) are considered
within the conceptual framework of ecosystem engineering.
TidsskriftMarine Ecology - Progress Series
Sider (fra-til)285-302
Antal sider17
StatusUdgivet - 2012

Bibliografisk note

Open access


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