MEPS 298:79-94 (2005)  -  doi:10.3354/meps298079

Impact of long-term benthic trawl disturbance on sediment sorting and biogeochemistry in the southern North Sea

M. Trimmer1,*, J. Petersen1, D. B. Sivyer2, C. Mills2, E. Young2, E. R. Parker2

1School of Biological Sciences, Queen Mary, University of London, London E1 4NS, UK
2Centre for Environment Fisheries and Aquaculture Sciences, Lowestoft NR33 0HT, UK

ABSTRACT: Benthic trawling has a recognised impact on sediment whole organism communities, yet little is known about its impact on sediment biogeochemistry. On 2 cruises in October 2001 and July 2002, we measured sediment characteristics (particle size distribution, porosity and organic matter [OM]) and sediment metabolism (oxygen uptake, denitrification, sulphate reduction and sediment– water nutrient exchange) along gradients of trawling activity at 14 sites in 2 regions of the southern North Sea: one with low tidal disturbance but high trawling disturbance (Outer Silver Pit, OSP), the other with high tidal disturbance but lower trawling disturbance (Thames). There was no measurable impact of trawling activity on oxygen uptake, denitrification or nutrient exchange in either region. In contrast, at the high trawling disturbance sites in the OSP only, there was both a shift in particle size distribution (towards fines) and a greater rate of sulphate reduction (volume specific rates 0.83 and 0.49 nmol SO42– cm–3 h–1 at high and low impact sites, respectively), but not in the Thames. In addition, areal rates of sulphate reduction were positively correlated with both silt content (i.e. associated with organics) and long-term trawling in the OSP but not in the Thames. Biogeochemical processes in the upper layers of sediment, both oxic and suboxic, seemed unaffected by trawling in the long-term. In deeper anoxic sediment, however, mineralisation via sulphate reduction may be stimulated by the extra disturbance, at least in areas where tidal energy is slight.


KEY WORDS: Impact · Trawling · Disturbance · Biogeochemistry · Sulphate reduction · Sediments


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