Four seasonal sampling surveys were carried out between December 1985 and September 1986 in Canal de Mira (Ria de Aveiro, Portugal). A total of 40 sampling stations, distributed over 13 transects, was used. Salinity, temperature, dissolved oxygen and pH of the water mass were measured. Sediment temperature, and salinity and pH of interstitial water were determined. Sediment variables also included granulometric composition and organic matter contents. Bottom macrofauna samples were collected at each station.
Ordination (PCA and MDS) and classification of the sampling stations were performed, using the physicochemical and the biological data sets separately. Average linkage cluster analysis using the unweighted paired-group method, arithmetic averages, was used for both sets of data.
With a salinity range from 35.1‰ to 0.0‰, Canal de Mira behaves like a tidally and seasonally poikilohaline estuary. Water temperature (8.5–24.7°C) decreased along the channel towards its inner part during the cold season; an inverse and more pronounced trend was observed during the hot season. Dissolved oxygen contents was generally high during the day (50% to 240% saturation). Oversaturation was observed throughout the growing season, with peaks in areas with large amounts of rooted vegetation. The pH values, largely correlated with dissolved oxygen, ranged from 6.8 to 8.9. Four types of sediment were present in Canal de Mira, medium and muddy sands being dominant.
Two major gradients were identified: (i) a typical longitudinal estuarine gradient, associated with distance from the mouth, representing physicochemical variables such as tidal amplitude, salinity and temperature; this gradient was accompanied by an upstream increase in dominance; the community composition changes were mainly related to salinity; (ii) a lateral gradient, related to current velocity, depth and sediment composition; the subtidal community had a comparatively low species richness and abundance. Groups of stations could be recognized along the environmental gradients. Benthic community changes, however, appeared to be gradual rather than marked by abrupt transitions.