To explore the dynamic nature of geochemical conditions in bioirrigated marine permeable sediments, we studied the hydraulic activity of three tellinacean bivalve molluscs (the Pacific species Macoma nasuta and Macomona liliana, and the northern Atlantic and Pacific species
Macoma balthica). We combined porewater pressure sensing, time-lapse photography and oxygen imaging to quantify the durations and frequencies of tellinid irrigation activity and the associated oxygen dynamics in the sediment. Porewater pressure records of all tellinids were dominated
by intermittent porewater pressurization, induced by periodic water injection into the sediment through their excurrent siphons, which resulted in intermittent oxygen supply to subsurface sediments. The irrigation (two–12 minutes long) and intervals between subsequent irrigation bouts
(1.5–13 minutes) varied among tellinid species and individual sizes. For large M. liliana and M. nasuta, the average intervals between irrigation bouts were sufficiently long (10 minutes and four minutes, respectively) to allow complete oxygen consumption in between irrigation
bouts in all tested sediment types. Irrigation patterns of smaller conspecifics and the smaller species M. balthica were characterized by significantly shorter separation of irrigation bouts, which resulted in more continuous oxygenation of the sediment. Transport-reaction modeling
confirmed these species- and size-specific geochemical signatures and indicated that the geochemical character of the sediment is largely conditioned by the interplay between temporal irrigation patterns and sedimentary oxygen consumption rates. For large tellinids, model simulations indicated
that oscillatory rather than stationary geochemical conditions are prevalent in a wide range of sediment types, with oxic pockets collapsing completely between periods of active irrigation. Based on the model results we developed analytical approximations that allow estimation of spatio-temporal
characteristics of sediment oxygenation for a wide range of sediment types and infaunal activity patterns. Our results emphasize the need to consider the intermittent nature of bioirrigation when studying the geochemical impact of infauna in permeable sediments.
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