, Volume 148, Issue 2, pp 293-305

Quantifying effects of pollution on biodiversity: a case study of highly diverse molluscan assemblages in the Mediterranean

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Structured sampling designs are important in the assessment of environmental impacts of variable ecological systems. Recent developments have provided a useful framework extending existing univariate techniques into a multivariate context. Measures of taxonomic relatedness have also been introduced, which complement existing measures of diversity of assemblages. In this study, the potential effects of sewage discharge on spatial patterns of highly diverse molluscan assemblages in a Mediterranean rocky subtidal habitat were investigated. Nine 20 cm×20 cm quadrats were taken from each of three sites (80 m–100 m apart) within a putatively impacted location near a sewage outfall (I) and at each of two control locations (Cs) by destructive sampling by SCUBA divers at a depth of 3 m–4 m. A total of 5507 specimens of 151 species were collected. The average and the variance in total abundance of molluscs were greater, on average, at I than at Cs. Higher abundances at the sewage outfall were largely driven by greater numbers of juvenile molluscs. The Shannon diversity of molluscs (H′) was significantly lower at I, but no difference among locations was detected for the total number of species (S). In addition, the taxonomic distinctness (Δ*) of molluscs was greater at Cs, although it was more variable at I. Multivariate analyses showed that there was a significant difference in the structure of assemblages at I compared with Cs. The location near the outfall was characterized by greater abundances of several species, including especially the gastropods Pusillina philippi, Bittium latreilli, and Bittium reticulatum. There was also greater variability in the structure of assemblages among sites and among quadrats at control locations compared to those near the outfall. Using a suite of univariate and multivariate measures, including diversity indices, detailed information on taxonomic structure and analyses of variability at different spatial scales, provided useful insights into the effects of sewage impacts on these diverse assemblages. These results also highlighted the importance of analysing measures of variance, as well as mean in considering effects of stress in natural communities.

Communicated by R. Cattaneo-Vietti, Genova