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Objective classification of ecological status in marine water bodies using ecotoxicological information and multivariate analysis

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Some relevant shortcomings have been identified in the current approach for the classification of ecological status in marine water bodies, leading to delays in the fulfillment of the Water Framework Directive objectives. Natural variability makes difficult to settle fixed reference values and boundary values for the Ecological Quality Ratios (EQR) for the biological quality elements. Biological responses to environmental degradation are frequently of nonmonotonic nature, hampering the EQR approach. Community structure traits respond only once ecological damage has already been done and do not provide early warning signals. An alternative methodology for the classification of ecological status integrating chemical measurements, ecotoxicological bioassays and community structure traits (species richness and diversity), and using multivariate analyses (multidimensional scaling and cluster analysis), is proposed. This approach does not depend on the arbitrary definition of fixed reference values and EQR boundary values, and it is suitable to integrate nonlinear, sensitive signals of ecological degradation. As a disadvantage, this approach demands the inclusion of sampling sites representing the full range of ecological status in each monitoring campaign. National or international agencies in charge of coastal pollution monitoring have comprehensive data sets available to overcome this limitation.

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Authors wish to thank A. Freire, T. Tato, and N. Trigo for their technical assistance. We also thank Dr. A. Bode and an anonymous referee for their comments that enriched the manuscript. This work was partially funded by the Spanish Ministry of Science and Innovation through the Research Project CTM2009-10908. One of us (I.D.) was granted with a FPU Fellowship from the Spanish Government.

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Correspondence to Ricardo Beiras.

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Responsible editor: Philippe Garrigues

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Beiras, R., Durán, I. Objective classification of ecological status in marine water bodies using ecotoxicological information and multivariate analysis. Environ Sci Pollut Res 21, 13291–13301 (2014).

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  • Ecological status
  • Multivariate analysis
  • Pollution
  • Ecotoxicological bioassays
  • Community structure
  • Water framework directive