An unusually large phytoplankton spring bloom drives rapid changes in benthic diversity and ecosystem function

Qingtian, Z, Warwick, RM, McNeill, CL, Widdicombe, CE, Sheehan, A and Widdicombe, S 2015 An unusually large phytoplankton spring bloom drives rapid changes in benthic diversity and ecosystem function. Progress in Oceanography, 137. 533-545.

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In 2012, the Western English Channel experienced an unusually large and long-lived phytoplankton spring bloom. When compared with data from the past 20 years, average phytoplankton biomass at Station L4 (part of the Western Channel Observatory) was approximately 3× greater and lasted 50% longer than any previous year. Regular (mostly weekly) box core samples were collected from this site before, during and after the bloom to determine its impact on macrofaunal abundance, diversity, biomass, community structure and function. The spring bloom of 2012 was shown to support a large and rapid response in the majority of benthic taxa and functional groups. However, key differences in the precise nature of this response, as well as in its timing, was observed between different macrofauna feeding groups. Deposit feeders responded almost instantly at the start of the bloom, primarily thorough an increase in abundance. Suspension feeders and opportunistic/predatory/carnivorous taxa responded slightly more slowly and primarily with an increase in biomass. At the end of the bloom a rapid decline in macrobenthic abundance, diversity and biomass closely followed the decline in phytoplankton biomass. With suspension feeders showing evidence of this decline a few weeks before deposit feeders, it was concluded that this collapse in benthic communities was driven primarily by food availability and competition. However, it is possible that environmental hypoxia and the presence of toxic benthic cyanobacteria could also have contributed to this decline. This study shows evidence for strong benthic–pelagic coupling at L4; a shallow (50 m), coastal, fine-sand habitat. It also demonstrates that in such habitats, it is not just planktonic organisms that demonstrate clear community phenology. Different functional groups within the benthic assemblage will respond to the spring bloom in specific manner, with implications for key ecosystem functions and processes, such as secondary production and bioturbation. Only by taking integrated benthic and pelagic observations over such fine temporal scales (weekly) was the current study able to identify the intimate structure of the benthic response. Similar studies from other habitats and under different bloom conditions are urgently needed to fully appreciate the strength of benthic–pelagic coupling in shallow coastal environments.

Item Type: Publication - Article
Subjects: Biology
Ecology and Environment
Marine Sciences
Divisions: Plymouth Marine Laboratory > Science Areas > Marine Ecology and Biodiversity
Depositing User: Claire Widdicombe
Date made live: 16 Feb 2016 14:00
Last Modified: 25 Apr 2020 09:57

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