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Can biotic indicators distinguish between natural and anthropogenic environmental stress in estuaries?

Tweedley, J.R.ORCID: 0000-0002-2749-1060, Warwick, R.M. and Potter, I.C. (2015) Can biotic indicators distinguish between natural and anthropogenic environmental stress in estuaries? Journal of Sea Research, 102 . pp. 10-21.

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Because estuaries are naturally stressed, due to variations in salinity, organic loadings, sediment stability and oxygen concentrations over both spatial and temporal scales, it is difficult both to set baseline reference conditions and to distinguish between natural and anthropogenic environmental stresses. This contrasts with the situation in marine coastal and offshore locations. A very large benthic macroinvertebrate dataset and matching concentrations for seven toxic heavy metals (i.e. Cr, Ni, Cu, Zn, Cd, Hg and Pb), compiled over three years as part of the UK's National Marine Monitoring Programme (NMMP) for 27 subtidal sites in 16 estuaries and 34 coastal marine sites in the United Kingdom, have been analysed. The results demonstrate that species composition and most benthic biotic indicators (number of taxa, overall density, Shannon–Wiener diversity, Simpson's index and AZTI's Marine Biotic Index [AMBI]) for sites in estuarine and coastal areas were significantly different, reflecting natural differences between these two environments. Shannon–Wiener diversity and AMBI were not significantly correlated either with overall heavy metal contaminant loadings or with individual heavy metal concentrations (‘normalized’ as heavy metal/aluminium ratios) in estuaries. In contrast, average taxonomic distinctness (Δ+) and variation in taxonomic distinctness (Λ+) did not differ significantly between estuarine and coastal environments, i.e. they were unaffected by natural differences between these two environments, but both were significantly correlated with overall heavy metal concentrations. Furthermore, Δ+ was correlated significantly with the Cu, Zn, Cd, Hg and Pb concentrations and Λ+ was correlated significantly with the Cr, Ni, Cu, Cd and Hg concentrations. Thus, one or both of these two taxonomic distinctness indices are significantly correlated with the concentrations for each of these seven heavy metals. These taxonomic distinctness indices are therefore considered appropriate indicators of anthropogenic disturbance in estuaries, as they allow a regional reference condition to be set from which significant departures can then be determined.

Item Type: Journal Article
Murdoch Affiliation(s): Centre for Fish and Fisheries Research
School of Veterinary and Life Sciences
Publisher: Elsevier Science B.V.
Copyright: © 2015 Elsevier B.V.
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