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Above-below surface interactions mediate effects of seagrass disturbance on meiobenthic diversity, nematode and polychaete trophic structure.

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Ecological interactions between aquatic plants and sediment communities can shape the structure and function of natural systems. Currently, we do not fully understand how seagrass habitat degradation impacts the biodiversity of belowground sediment communities. Here, we evaluated indirect effects of disturbance of seagrass meadows on meiobenthic community composition, with a five-month in situ experiment in a tropical seagrass meadow. Disturbance was created by reducing light availability (two levels of shading), and by mimicking grazing events (two levels) to assess impacts on meiobenthic diversity using high-throughput sequencing of 18S rRNA amplicons. Both shading and simulated grazing had an effect on meiobenthic community structure, mediated by seagrass-associated biotic drivers and sediment abiotic variables. Additionally, shading substantially altered the trophic structure of the nematode community. Our findings show that degradation of seagrass meadows can alter benthic community structure in coastal areas with potential impacts to ecosystem functions mediated by meiobenthos in marine sediments.

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