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Pollution: Effects on marine communities

Warwick, R.M. (2001) Pollution: Effects on marine communities. In: Steele, J.H., Turekian, K.K. and Thorpe, S.A., (eds.) Encyclopedia of Ocean Sciences. Academic Press, London, UK, pp. 2222-2229.

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Natural communities of all types of marine organisms all over the world are being affected either directly or indirectly by pollution: directly by discharges of industrial and domestic wastes, offshore oil and gas drilling activities for example, and indirectly as a result of atmospheric pollution and global climate change. Some of these community changes are visually obvious in the field, such as the effects on reef corals of increased particle sedimentation or abnormally long periods of high water temperatures (causing bleaching). Others require the analysis of samples brought back to the laboratory, such as the assemblages of organisms living in seabed sediments or the plankton. The determination of changes in the structure of these communities, in particular the sediment-dwelling macrobenthos, is widely used in the detection and monitoring of humans’ impact on the sea for a number of reasons. Attributes of the community level of biological organization reflect integrated environmental conditions over a period of time, whereas methods employing lower levels of organization (biochemical, cellular, physiology of whole organisms) require an experimental approach which reflects the condition of the organisms just at the time of sampling. It is natural communities that are of direct concern, and predicting the consequences for these communities from lower level signals is presently not feasible with any degree of confidence. Monitoring at higher levels of organization, e.g., measuring ecosystem attributes, is often simply not tractable. Community change, especially when measured by multivariate methods (see below) has also been shown to be a very sensitive indicator of environmental conditions. It is not necessary for animals to die for a community response to be elicited, but subtle effects such as shifts in the relative competitive abilities of species or changes in fecundity are detectable.

Aspects of survey and sampling design, that will enable valid inferences to be drawn, and the practicalities of sampling different groups of marine organisms, are beyond the scope of this article (but see Further Reading). Rather, it concerns the analysis and interpretation of community data with a view to detecting and monitoring the impacts of pollution and other Man-induced disturbances, and inferring causality.

Publication Type: Book Chapter
Publisher: Academic Press
Copyright: © 2001 Elsevier Ltd
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