Interregional comparison of benthic ecosystem functioning

New publication from Benthos Ecology Working Group looks at community bioturbation potential in four regions along the Northeastern Atlantic shelf.
Published: 25 November 2019

​​​​Seafloor sediments comprise one of the largest habitats on Earth. Together with the benthic organisms they shelter, they regulate energy flows in marine ecosystems and grant valuable products and ecological services. 

Interregional comparison of benthic ecosystem functioning: community bioturbation potential in four regions along the NE Atlantic shelf" is a recently published study, jointly produced by ICES Benthos Ecology Working Group (BEWG). The study finalizes work on one of BEWGs Terms of Reference (ToR b)​​​ which focuses on species distribution modelling and mapping.

In the study, motivated by a curiosity in biogeographical comparisons and the availability of data and relevant expertise around the table, an analysis of bioturbation capacity of the macrobenthic community across multiple regions along the European Shelf was carried out for the first time.

Lead author Mayya Gogina explains the reason for the study. “Our intension was to amplify the knowledge on bioturbation potential (BPc). BPc is one of the few indicators based on benthic community data that has become more and more widely used and is often linked with ecosystem functioning - even though it is important to mention that BPc was not developed for that purpose*. It aggregates abundance, biomass, and functional traits of all species in the community and recent findings suggest that it often matches the rates of ecosystem processes better than any of those metrics alone." 

In situ direct measurements of bioturbation are rare as they require expert knowledge, technology, and resources that are often limited. “The nice thing about the trait-based BPc", explains Gogina, “is that it can be calculated based on relatively widely available macrofauna data". In combination with the relevant full-coverage environmental data layers used as predictors, spatial distribution of community BPc (and/or species-specific contributions) can be modelled and mapped for each area, and the underlying drivers of differences and commonalities can be explored. “This is exactly what we have done for the Eastern English Channel, Belgian part of the North Sea, German part of the North Sea, and the German part of the Baltic Sea". Results displayed higher values of BPc in the German parts of the North and Baltic Seas, and different functional relevance of BPc subject to biotic and abiotic settings.

One of the approaches used by the group is based on species-specific models and can also be used to test different scenarios of species loss (or gain), for example to assess the possible impact of human pressures on ecosystem functioning. The authors are also aware that difficulties caused by data heterogeneity, particularly common for inter-regional comparisons, could not be avoided. “The tradeoff between comparability and data availability was often solved by favouring the latter, but we tried our best to thoroughly and properly document and address those issues at every relevant part of the paper".

Read the full paper in Ecological Indicators.

BEWG ​brings together a group of ecologists with expertise from macro to meio-benthos. Species distribution modelling is one of the primary focuses of the group but they also work on benthic long-term series and climate change, benthic indicators, the link between biodiversity and ecosystem functioning, and the role of benthos within marine protected areas (MPAs). 

*see Solan et al., 2004

The work of BEWG includes ecosystem science, the impacts of human activities, and conservation and management science - all of which are ICES science priorities that support our Strategic Plan. Discover our seven interrelated scientific priorities and how our network will ​address them​ in our Science Plan: “Marine ecosystem and sustainability science for the 2020s and beyond”​. ​

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​Bioturbation actors on the seabed. Photos: Mayya Gogina.

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Interregional comparison of benthic ecosystem functioning

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