Uniformly 13C-labeled diatoms were used to elucidate the effect deposit feeders have on the distribution and composition of phytodetritus within the seabed. Mudflat infauna contained in microcosms reacted quickly to the emplacement of labeled diatoms onto the sediment-water interface by moving the phytodetritus nonlocally during feeding and hoeing activities. Although redistribution of tracer was rapid, not all infauna exposed to the tracer ingested it. Using four species of deposit-feeding annelids that had ingested the 13C-labeled phytodetritus during the microcosm experiment, molecular-level, digestive alterations of 13C-labeled diatoms were documented. Fecal material produced by the deposit feeders had 13C amino acid signatures distinctly different from that of the diatom. Alterations in the amino acid composition of the diatom were correlated to the gut morphology and digestive physiology of the polychaete taxa.
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