, Volume 550, Issue 1, pp 95-104

Temporal Trends in Macrobenthos Community Structure and Redundancy in a Shallow Coastal Lagoon (Valli di Comacchio, Northern Adriatic Sea)

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Temporal trends in macrobenthic communities of the Valli di Comacchio, the largest lagoonal ecosystem in the Po River deltaic area, were examined at four sampling sites located along a putative stress gradient and characterized by different levels of disturbance. Trends of parameters characterizing macrobenthic community structure were analyzed using data collected quarterly from 1996 to 2002. The positive slopes in trends of proportion of abundance of opportunistic species observed at all the four study sites indicated the persistence of stressful conditions. Conversely, temporal trends of species richness and diversity showed a positive slope at three out of four sites, thus indicating an increase of community structural complexity. It is suggested that the increase in abundance of detritivorous opportunistic species, as well as the increase in diversity and species richness, is probably driven by the frequency of physical disturbance that resets the ‘successional clock’ of the benthic communities of the Valli. Redundancy was assessed through multivariate analyses and a ‘forward selection backward elimination’ algorithm. At the ecosystem level (i.e., merging counts from the four sites), two response units (a response unit is the smallest subset of species for which the Spearman rank correlation with sample similarities for the full species set exceeds a predetermined value) were obtained. Each of the response units encompassed quite a large taxonomic and functional spread, since all guilds were well represented. Conversely, at the local level, only one response unit was obtained. Species number and function is essential to long-term maintenance of community and ecosystem processes over a complete cycle of common disturbance events. Since redundancy reflects the resistance to change of community functioning, we hypothesize that the macrobenthic communities of the Valli di Comacchio are quite resistant to environmental changes, despite disturbances that generate fluctuations in species abundance and complement at the local level.