Chironomid larvae enhance phosphorus burial in lake sediments: Insights from long-term and short-term experiments

Sci Total Environ. 2019 May 1;663:254-264. doi: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2019.01.274. Epub 2019 Jan 23.


Tube-dwelling macrozoobenthos can affect lake ecosystems in myriad ways, including changes in nutrient fluxes across the sediment-water interface. The pumping activity of chironomid larvae reinforces the transport of solutes between sediment and water. The transport of oxygen into the area surrounding the burrows generates oxidized compounds such as iron(oxy)hydroxides, which results in an additional phosphorus (P) sorption capacity similar to that of oxidized sediment surfaces. In the present study, the effect of the oxidized burrow walls of Chironomus plumosus on P binding capacity and P binding forms was tested in the laboratory using sediments with differing iron contents and varying numbers of chironomid larvae. In an additional long-term experiment, lake sediment naturally rich in iron was incubated under oxic conditions for 165 days, followed by a 3.5-year anoxic period. These experiments showed that: (1) Under oxic conditions the cumulative P uptake by sediments was dependent on larval densities. (2) The P that accumulated both at the sediment-water interface and in the oxidized burrow walls was mainly present as reductive soluble P (iron-bound P). Surprisingly, the amount of P released during the anoxic period in the long-term experiment was independent of the amount of P previously taken up during the oxic period since a portion of P was permanently retained in the sediment. The increase in alkaline soluble metal-bound P (NaOH-SRP) in formerly colonized sediments is a strong indication that the excessive P fixation by reductive soluble iron triggers the subsequent formation of stable iron phosphate minerals such as vivianite. Our study shows that P fixation that is induced by chironomid larvae is not always a completely reversible phenomenon, even after the emergence of the larvae and the re-establishment of anoxic conditions in the sediment.

Keywords: Chironomids; Iron; Lake internal phosphorus cycling; Phosphorus binding forms; Phosphorus diagenesis; Tube-dwelling macrozoobenthos.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Chironomidae / growth & development
  • Chironomidae / metabolism*
  • Geologic Sediments / chemistry*
  • Germany
  • Lakes / chemistry*
  • Larva / growth & development
  • Larva / metabolism
  • Phosphorus / metabolism*
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical / metabolism*


  • Water Pollutants, Chemical
  • Phosphorus