Measurement of changes in marine benthic ecosystem function following physical disturbance by dredging
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Measuring the impact of physical disturbance on macrofaunal communities and sediment composition is important given the increased demand for the exploitation and disturbance of marine ecosystems. The aim of the present investigation was to provide a comprehensive study about the extent to which the disturbance (especially aggregate dredging) may affect benthic ecosystem function. The first part of the thesis concerns a field investigation of the impacts of dredging on the benthic community and related ecosystem function which was measured by different approaches including traditional methods based on benthic community structure and a more novel approach based on the functional traits of benthic organisms. The assessment was done by comparing dredged sites (Area 222, southeast England) with nearby undisturbed reference sites from the years 2001 to 2004 and in 2007. In general, low dredging intensity did not appear to impose great impacts on the benthic community and related ecosystem function compared to the higher intensity activity. Most of the analyses suggested that the community at the high dredging intensity site had yet to recover at the end of this study period. Among many factors related to the recovery of the benthic community was sediment composition where gravel deposits appeared to support a faster biological recovery. Meanwhile, the recovery of species with specific traits, such as tube-building and filter feeding also indicate a faster recovery for the whole community. The experimental work to determine different impacts of Hediste diversicolor on its surrounding depending on its relative size is discussed in Appendix 1.
Thesis, PhD Doctor of Philosophy
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