PRS Publications

Ecosystem bioelement variability is associated with freshwater animal aggregations at the aquatic-terrestrial interface

Lopez, J. W., R. N. Hartnett, T. B. Parr and C. C. Vaughn. 2023.


The impacts of animals on the biogeochemical cycles of major bioelements like C, N, and P are well-studied across ecosystem types. However, more than 20 elements are necessary for life. The feedbacks between animals and the biogeochemical cycles of the other bioelements are an emerging research priority. We explored how much freshwater mussels (Bivalvia: Unionoida) were related to variability in ecosystem pools of 10 bioelements (Ca, Cu, Fe, K, Mn, Na, Mg, P, S and Zn) in streams containing a natural mussel density gradient in the US Interior Highlands. We studied the concentrations of these bioelements across the aquatic-terrestrial interface%u2014in the porewater of riverine gravel bars, and the emergent macrophyte Justicia americana. Higher mussel density was associated with increased calcium in gravel bars and macrophytes. Mussel density also correlated with variability in iron and other redox-sensitive trace elements in gravel bars and macrophytes, although this relationship was mediated by sediment grain size. We found that two explanations for the patterns we observed are worthy of further research: (1) increased calcium availability in gravel bars near denser mussel aggregations may be a product of the buildup and dissolution of shells in the gravel bar, and (2) mussels may alter redox conditions, and thus elemental availability in gravel bars with fine sediments, either behaviorally or through physical structure provided by shell material. A better understanding of the physical and biogeochemical impacts of animals on a wide range of elemental cycles is thus necessary to conserve the societal value of freshwater ecosystems.

Key Words

onome Calcium Trace element Redox Metals Bivalve Freshwater mussel