MEPS 336:1-14 (2007)  -  doi:10.3354/meps336001

Eutrophication and overfishing in temperate nearshore pelagic food webs: a network perspective

Vera Vasas1,4,*, Christiane Lancelot1, Véronique Rousseau1, Ferenc Jordán2,3

1Ecologie des Systèmes Aquatiques, Université Libre de Bruxelles, Campus Plaine CP 221, Boulevard du Triomphe, 1050 Bruxelles, Belgium
2Collegium Budapest, Institute for Advanced Study, Szentháromság u. 2, 1014 Budapest, Hungary
3Animal Ecology Research Group, Hungarian Academy of Sciences, Hungarian Natural History Museum, Ludovika t. 2, 1083 Budapest, Hungary
4Present address: Department of Plant Taxonomy and Ecology, Eötvös Loránd University, Pázmány Péter s. 1/C, 1117 Budapest, Hungary

ABSTRACT: We investigated the effects of human activities on the pelagic food web structure of nearshore marine ecosystems. Their generic structure was established on the basis of literature review and analyzed by qualitative structural network analysis. Two main issues were addressed: (1) the role of species capable of forming harmful algal blooms (HABs) and red tides (Noctiluca spp.), as well as the role of jellyfish, in eutrophicated systems; (2) the contribution of human influences on food webs, focusing on bottom-up (increased nutrient loading) and top-down (overfishing) effects. Results suggest that HAB-forming species and Noctiluca stimulate the microbial network, but reduce higher trophic levels such as commercially important fish species. Jellyfish act as a buffer in eutrophicated and overfished systems, as they retain nutrients from the water column, but their blooms lead to a massive accumulation of large phytoplankton organisms. Anthropogenic nutrient enrichment favors undesirable species because of their specific position in the food web, and this crucial position may explain their far-reaching effects. Finally, while it appears that overfishing of piscivorous fishes inhibited HABs and supported blooms of diatoms and other large algae in the past, the present-day loss of planktivorous fishes acts synergistically with nutrient enrichment in promoting HAB species, Noctiluca and jellyfish. These fundamental constraints, which are inherent in the generic structure of pelagic food webs, thus largely determine community dynamics in marine coastal ecosystems.

KEY WORDS: Food web · Eutrophication · Overfishing · Network analysis · Coastal ecosystem · Indirect effects · Harmful algal blooms · Gelatinous plankton

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