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Benthic ecosystem functioning in the severely contaminated Mar Piccolo of Taranto (Ionian Sea, Italy): focus on heterotrophic pathways

Abstract

The benthic ecosystem functioning is a rarely applied holistic approach that integrates the main chemical and biological features of the benthic domain with the key processes responsible for the flux of energy and C through the system. For the first time, such conceptual model, with an emphasis on the heterotrophic pathways, has been applied to the sediments at four stations within one of the most polluted coastal areas in Italy: the Mar Piccolo of Taranto. The functioning of the benthic ecosystem was different according to the investigated site. Nearby the military arsenal, i.e., the main source of organic contaminants and heavy metals, the system seemed inhibited at all the investigated structural and functional levels. Slow microbial processes of C reworking together with very limited densities of benthic fauna suggested a modest transfer of C both into a solid microbial loop and to the higher trophic levels. On the other hand, the ingression of marine water through the “Navigabile” channel seemed to stimulate the organic matter degradation and, consequently, the proliferation of meiofauna and macrofauna. In the innermost part of the basin, the system functioning, to some extent, is less impacted by contaminants and more influenced by mussel farms. The organic matter produced by these bivalves fueled faster C reworking by benthic prokaryotes and enhanced the proliferation of filter feeders.

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Acknowledgements

The activities described in this publication were funded by the Project Bandiera RITMARE—La Ricerca Italiana per il Mare coordinated by the National Research Council and funded by the Ministry for Education, University and Research within the National Research Programme 2011–2013. A special thanks goes to the crew of the “Cerruti” boat and to the researchers of IAMC institute, section of Taranto, for their support and nice hospitality. We are grateful to Cinzia Comici for TC, TOC, and TN analyses; to Cinzia De Vittor for BPC data; and to all the colleagues involved in the project who helped us with suggestions and critical review of the study.

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Correspondence to A. Franzo.

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Responsible editor: Philippe Garrigues

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Franzo, A., Auriemma, R., Nasi, F. et al. Benthic ecosystem functioning in the severely contaminated Mar Piccolo of Taranto (Ionian Sea, Italy): focus on heterotrophic pathways. Environ Sci Pollut Res 23, 12645–12661 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11356-015-5339-0

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Keywords

  • Sediments
  • Mar Piccolo of Taranto
  • Semi-enclosed basin
  • Organic enrichment
  • Contamination
  • Ecosystem functioning
  • Benthic communities
  • Heterotrophic pathways