Applying macrophyte community indicators to assess anthropogenic pressures on shallow soft bottoms


Vegetated soft bottoms are under pressure due to a number of anthropogenic stressors, such as coastal exploitation and eutrophication. The ecological value of these biotopes has gained recognition through international conventions and the EU directives, which request methods for assessment of the environmental status of coastal areas. However, currently there is no appropriate method for assessing the status of shallow vegetated soft bottoms in the northern Baltic Sea. Therefore, we developed a macrophyte community index and tested its response in relation to important pressures (eutrophication and boating activity) and natural gradients (topographic openness, depth and salinity) on shallow bays in the northern Baltic Sea. The macrophyte index, and hence the proportion of sensitive to tolerant species, decreased with increasing phosphorus concentration, turbidity and level of boating activity, while the cumulative cover of macrophytes only showed a negative trend in response to increasing turbidity. Juvenile fish abundance was positively related to the index, indicating importance of sensitive macrophyte species for ecosystem functioning. As the index was tested in a wide geographic area, and showed a uniform response across natural gradients, it is a promising tool for assessment of environmental status that may be applied also in other vegetated soft-bottom areas.

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Data for the project were kindly shared by the Uppland Foundation (Johan Persson), the Department of Aquatic Resources at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (Alfred Sandström), and the Government of Åland (Suvi Kiviluoto). We also thank Ida Brännäng for GIS assistance and Mats Blomqvist (Hafok AB) for assistance with the raw data. The manuscript was improved by comments from two anonymous reviewers, and from Prof. Lena Kautsky on an early draft of the manuscript. This project was partly financed by the Central Baltic Interreg IVA programme (Archipelagos and Islands) through the European Regional Development Fund (project AI4 NANNUT).

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Hansen, J.P., Snickars, M. Applying macrophyte community indicators to assess anthropogenic pressures on shallow soft bottoms. Hydrobiologia 738, 171–189 (2014).

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  • Monitoring
  • Bio-assessment
  • Eutrophication
  • Boating activity
  • Aquatic plants
  • Baltic Sea