Abstract

Death assemblages that occupy the upper tens of centimeters of sediment in shallow-marine settings are often subject to extensive mixing, thereby limiting their usefulness in assessing environmentally mediated compositional changes through time in the local biota. Here, we provide evidence that dense, Thalassia-rich seagrass beds preserve a stratigraphic record of biotic variation because their dense root–rhizome mats inhibit mixing. We sampled benthic mollusk assemblages at seven localities in Thalassia-rich beds around St. Croix, USVI, collecting three separate sediment intervals of ~13 cm each to a total depth of ~40 cm below the sediment–water interface, and found evidence that sedimentary intervals preserved compositional stratigraphy. Further, some localities displayed systematic, directional changes down-core. An examination of interval-to-interval changes in composition revealed that compositional variation was unique from locality to locality rather than reflecting coordinated, island-wide transitions. In general, however, relative abundances of epifaunal gastropods and small lucinid bivalves tended to decrease with depth below the sediment–water interface. Quantitative comparisons of life-to-death assemblages from each successive sedimentary interval demonstrated that the shallowest death assemblages were typically more similar to the life assemblages than were deeper assemblages, suggesting that deeper intervals provide records of earlier community states.

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