Impacts of trawling on the diversity, biomass and structure of meiofauna assemblages
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Disturbance due to trawling reduces the biomass and production of macro-infaunal invertebrate communities, implying that their total food-consumption rate will fall, and that production (carbon) reaching the sea floor will be processed by other animals that can withstand the effects of trawling. Meiofauna may be resistant to disturbance by trawling because they are likely to be resuspended rather than killed by trawls and because their short generation times would allow them to withstand elevated mortality. We used a BACI experimental approach to investigate the short-term effects of beam trawling on the diversity, biomass and community structure of meiofauna on real fishing grounds in the southern North Sea. Experiments at two locations showed that there were no short- to medium-term (1–392 days after experimental trawling) trawling impacts on meiofaunal diversity or biomass, but that there were mild effects on community structure. Any impacts due to trawling were minor in relation to seasonal changes in the meiofaunal communities. We assessed the power of our experiments to detect the effects of trawling and recorded a 44–85% chance of detecting a 50% change in species richness and a 65% chance of detecting an order-of-magnitude change in biomass. The power to detect changes in total abundance, however, was low (between 11% and 12% power for detecting a change of 50%). We suggest that meiofauna are more resistant to disturbance by beam trawling than are macrofauna and that they have the potential to withstand the effects of chronic trawling on real fishing grounds and to retain a key role in energy cycling.
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