Marine Biology

, Volume 118, Issue 4, pp 739-744

First online:

Relearning the ABC: taxonomic changes and abundance/biomass relationships in disturbed benthic communities

  • R. M. WarwickAffiliated withPlymouth Marine Laboratory
  • , K. R. ClarkeAffiliated withPlymouth Marine Laboratory

Rent the article at a discount

Rent now

* Final gross prices may vary according to local VAT.

Get Access


For marine macrobenthic communities, a shift from higher biomass dominance with increasing levels of disturbance can be determined by the abundance/biomass comparison (ABC) method. This response results from (i) a shift in the proportions of different phyla present in communities, some phyla having larger-bodied species than others, and (ii) a shift in the relative distributions of abundance and biomass among species within the Annelida (specifically Polychaeta) but not within any of the other major phyla (Mollusca, Crustacea, Echinodermata). The shift within polychaetes reflects the substitution of largerbodied by smaller-bodied species, and not a change in the average size of individuals within a species. In most instances the phyletic changes reinforce the trend in species substitutions within the polychaetes, to produce the overall ABC response, but in some cases they may work against each other. Indications of pollution or disturbance detected by this method should be viewed with caution if the species responsible for the polluted configurations are not polychaetes. These observations provide an aid to interpretation of the ABC plots, especially in some situations where they have been deemed to give a false impression of the disturbance status of a community.