Fauna comes from the Latin names Fauna, a Roman goddess of earth and fertility, the Roman god Faunus, and the related forest spirits called Fauns. All three words are cognates of the name of the Greek god Pan, and panis is the Greek equivalent of fauna. Fauna is also the word for a book that catalogues the animals in such a manner. The term was first used by Linnaeus in the title of his 1745 work Fauna Suecica.
Infauna are benthic organisms that live within the bottom substratum of a body of water, especially within the bottom-most oceanic sediments, rather than on its surface. Bacteria and microalgae may also live in the interstices of bottom sediments. In general, infaunal animals become progressively smaller and less abundant with increasing water depth and distance from shore, whereas bacteria show more constancy in abundance, tending toward one million cells per milliliter of interstitial seawater.
Macrofauna are benthic or soil organisms which are retained on a 0.5 mm sieve. Studies in the deep sea define macrofauna as animals retained on a 0.3 mm sieve to account for the small size of many of the taxa.
Meiofauna are small benthicinvertebrates that live in both marine and fresh water environments. The term Meiofauna loosely defines a group of organisms by their size, larger than microfauna but smaller than macrofauna, rather than a taxonomic grouping. One environment for meiofauna is between grains of damp sand (see Mystacocarida).
In practice these are metazoan animals that can pass unharmed through a 0.5 – 1 mm mesh but will be retained by a 30–45 μm mesh, but the exact dimensions will vary from researcher to researcher. Whether an organism passes through a 1 mm mesh also depends upon whether it is alive or dead at the time of sorting.
Mesofauna are macroscopic soil invertebrates such as arthropods or nematodes. Mesofauna are extremely diverse; considering just the springtails (Collembola), as of 1998, approximately 6,500 species had been identified.