MEPS 172:25-36 (1998)  -  doi:10.3354/meps172025

Relationships between taxonomic resolution, macrobenthic community patterns and disturbance

Frode Olsgard1,*, Paul J. Somerfield2, Martin R. Carr2

1Section of Marine Zoology and Marine Chemistry, Department of Biology, University of Oslo, PO Box 1064, Blindern, N-0316 Oslo, Norway
2Plymouth Marine Laboratory, Prospect Place, The Hoe, Plymouth PL1 3DH, United Kingdom

ABSTRACT: Although analyses of macrobenthic infaunal communities traditionally require identification of the organisms to the species level, there is still only a limited number of studies which have examined the use of higher-level taxa in monitoring surveys. These generally indicate that identification of organisms to the lowest possible taxon may not always be necessary to enable description of spatial patterns in routine environmental and pollution monitoring programs. In other fields of marine ecology, such as studies of biodiversity, comparative investigations over large geographical areas, and the development of rapid-assessment techniques, the use of identification to higher taxonomic levels is often necessary. Detailed comparative studies of faunal patterns at various taxonomic levels are therefore important. This study uses multivariate analyses of macrofauna and environmental data from 20 separate investigations in the Skagerrak and North Sea to examine faunal patterns at different taxonomic levels. Data are analysed at the levels of species, genus, family, order, class and phylum. Transformation of data is also considered since degree of transformation is as important in determining the outcome of subsequent analyses as the taxonomic level to which organisms are identified. Correlations between the underlying similarity matrices at the species level and higher taxonomic levels show highest values in polluted areas, lower values in less disturbed areas and lowest values in pristine areas, indicating that the faunal patterns for the various taxonomic levels become more similar as the degree of disturbance increases. For those areas where time-series data are available it is shown that, as contamination increases, correlations between the faunal patterns at all taxonomic levels, but especially the highest levels, and the environmental variables tend to increase, and after several years of contamination all the correlations are high, independent of taxonomic level. Again, the faunal patterns at the different taxonomic levels tend to become more similar as a result of increased pollution. For all 20 investigations, highest correlations between faunal patterns (i.e. the underlying similarity matrices) and environmental variables were mainly found at the levels of species, genus and family, and often there was a distinct drop in correlation value between family and order. In most cases, independent of the level of pollution, there is only a minor reduction in correlation between species and family, suggesting that identification to the level of family may be satisfactory in many routine monitoring surveys. The debate about the level of taxonomic resolution required for routine environmental monitoring becomes relatively unimportant if the effects of choosing different transformations are not also considered.

KEY WORDS: Taxonomic resolution · Transformations · Community patterns · Macrobenthos · Multivariate analysis · Disturbance · Pollution monitoring · Cost-effectiveness

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