Decomposing detritus (mostly dead algae debris) of marine organic material, laying onshore more or less close to the water line, containing seaweed or cadavers of aqatic animals, is named wrack. Wrack can appear under different kinds of ecological circumstances. In case, it would be in permanent contact with sea water, it might be mostly decomposed by marine organisms. But due to different reasons, wrack can land apart from a permanent sea water contact or even no sea water contact at all any more.
Here mostly terrestrial organisms with a tolerance for salty conditions would inhabit and decompose this piece of detritus. Sandhoppers (Cristacea) are known to switch between wracks of different conditions. They can for example carry mites or nematodes from one wrack habitat to another. Dead organic material generally always needs to be decomposed by living organisms, otherwise the whole ecological system would be harmed.
A specific kind of micro habitats
A small habitat, which would dry out after a while and thus exists only for a limited time, is called ephemere biochorion. Organisms being adapted to live there, must have adaptations, to leave their habitat by time to avoid desiccation. One option is a life strategy, which is named phoresy. Weaker organisms, unable to desperse themselves efficiently use other animals, such as winged insects, to take a ride on them to new habitats with suitable conditions for a development. Generally phoretic organisms can for example be represented by different groups of mites (e.g. Uropodida, Gamasina, Tarsenomidae, Scutacaridae, some Oribatida, Astigmata) and nematodes (Rhabditida).
Mites and nematodes
In case of wrack, decomposing close to the waterline, but without or only occasional water contact, Pellioditis marina (Nematoda, Rhabditida) is for example known as phoretic inhabitant along German coasts. Worldwide, crypitical sibling species of P. marina were meanwhile discovered. Depending on the exact situation of the wrack, also aquatic nematodes could appear there for a while. I couldn’t determine the nematode in my footage unfortunately at all, because I did not prepare slides of them enable a larger microscopic magnification. Phoretic mites can be associated with sand-hoppers (Amphipoda, Crustacea) and thus appear in wrack. Mites of the Histiostomatidae (Astigmata) were for example discovered in such a context by some researchers.
Mites of the Ameronothridae (Oribatida), sand-hoppers and dipterans
I so far never found them randomly, but also didn’t explicitely seek for histiostomatid species until now. My sample did not contain any Astigmata or I at least didn’t find them. Common inhabitants of decomposing wrack are oribatid mites of the Ameronothridae. This taxon with a worldwide distribution is charaterized by specific adaptations to deal as terrestrial organisms with (partly extreme) salty marine conditions. They are mostly algae feeders. Some species are known to appear in wrack. The sample, which I collected in context of the so called „Geo Tag der Natur 2018“ (Geo (journal) day of nature) in Norddeich Mole (East Frisian coast of Germany) contained many specimens (ca. 40, sample size of about 20×20 cm) of the Ameronothridae-species Ameronothrus sp.. My footage shows only one living specimen, as all had died until I began my filming activities.
Inhabitants of decomposing algae tissue along a beach at German North Sea, all copyrights Stefan F. Wirth
But I preserved several dead specimens for scientifc purposes. Ameronothridae might, according to literature, use phoresy via birds, but also might disperse themselves over smaller distances, due to their well developed cuticle, protecting against desiccation, and their rather fast locomotion abilities. Larvae of different species of flies (Diptera) developed inside my sample and hatched under my laboratory conditions after about two weeks. They intensively contributed to a fast decomposition of that organic marine tissue. Sand-hoppers were by the way not found at all.
Bacteria and protozoans
Bacteria are most important decomposers. But the function of protozoans (here e.g. Ciliata) in regard to the process of wrack degradation, which could still be isolated alive after about two weeks of decomposition, is unknown to me. My sample was found almost on top of a dike, meters away from the highest tide in that area and consisted mostly of the seaweed Fucus vesiculosus.It also contained sea gull feathers.