Nematode assemblages were sampled seasonally at three subtidal stations along the Belgian coast. The stations were characterized by muddy sediments (station 115), fine sand (station 702) and fine to coarse sand (station 790). The forces structuring vertical distribution were investigated by evaluating abundance, species composition, diversity and trophic composition, and relating these to sediment composition, redox state and food sources.
The nematode assemblages at the two finer grained stations (115, 702) were dominated by Daptonema tenuispiculum and Sabatieria punctata. For both species, the vertical distribution in the sediment seemed not dependent on the redoxchemistry, as former believed for S. punctata, but primarily influenced by food availability. This feature could also be recognized for Ixonema sordidum and Viscosia langrunensis, the most abundant nematodes at the coarse sandy station (790).
In general, nematode diversity was regulated primarily by sediment granulometry. Coarser sediments (station 790) yielded more diverse communities compared to the fine sediments (station 115, 702), however seasonal fluctuations and variations with depth into the sediment were not obvious. At the silty stations, when the sediment column was more oxidized in March, overall diversity was higher and showed a positive relationship to the mud content which varied with depth into the sediment. This positive relation is probably explained by an enhanced deposition of organic matter associated with the accumulation of fine particles near the river-mouths. Furthermore, the higher abundance, the lower diversity and the higher dominance found at the two silty stations of the eastern and the western part of the Belgian coast, pointed to a stressed, organically enriched environment.
The results demonstrate that controls on nematode community structure are complex and that information at both species and community level are required to properly evaluate the effects of natural and anthropogenic impacts.