, Volume 107, Issue 1-3, pp 203-220

Artificial Sampling Units: A Tool for Increasing the Sensitivity of Tests for Impact in Soft Sediments

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The distribution of benthic organisms in soft sediments is patchy in time and space on many scales. Such variability makes assessment of ecological impacts difficult. Sediment-related variables, such as grain-size and organic content, which can affect colonization by infauna, vary over similar scales. Variations in characteristics of the sediment may contribute to spatial variability in infaunal assemblages, making it difficult to detect the putative impacts of disturbances, such as the production of boat-generated waves (wash), on these organisms. Here, the hypothesis that infaunal assemblages colonizing containers of homogeneous sedimentwould be less spatially variable than those colonizing natural sediment was tested. Containers were deployed at mudflats differing in exposure to wash. If wash does affect colonization, a reduction in variability among sites of similar exposure should enable stronger differences to be seen between wash and no-wash zones. Assemblages colonizing homogeneous sediment were less variable than those colonizing site-specific sediment. No difference in colonization was, however, seen between places differing in their exposure to wash. Nevertheless, this method is of use in the assessment of ecological impacts in sedimentary environments, where it is difficult to detect putative impacts above the great natural variability in assemblages.