MEPS 562:37-51 (2016)  -  DOI: https://doi.org/10.3354/meps11935

Response of benthic assemblages to multiple stressors: comparative effects of nutrient enrichment and physical disturbance

Joseph M. Kenworthy1,2,3,*, David M. Paterson1, Melanie J. Bishop

1Sediment Ecology Research Group; Scottish Oceans Institute, School of Biology, University of St Andrews, East Sands, St. Andrews, Fife, KY16 8LB, UK
2Department of Biological Sciences, Macquarie University, North Ryde, NSW 2109, Australia
3Present address: Team ‘Diversity and Connectivity in Coastal Marine Landscapes’, UMR 7144, Station Biologique de Roscoff, 29680 Roscoff, France
*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: Stressors to ecological communities often overlap in time and space and may have additive, synergistic or antagonistic effects. Nutrient enrichment and physical disturbance are 2 commonly co-occurring stressors to estuarine ecosystems, but their combined effects have mainly been investigated in mesocosm experiments of unknown relevance to field scenarios. Here, the interacting effects of these 2 stressors were examined at 2 field locations (Botany Bay and Lane Cove, New South Wales, Australia) using a fully orthogonal manipulative experiment. All possible combinations of zero, low and high intensities of nutrient enrichment and physical disturbance on macrofaunal and microphytobenthic communities were examined. Effects of stressors were generally site-specific and additive, differing in terms of magnitude of effects, although some idiosyncratic interactive effects were demonstrated for selected species. Where effects of stressors were observed, nutrient enrichment generally increased microphytobenthic biomass and altered the macrofaunal community structure while physical disturbance produced limited impacts. The divergent results of this and previous mesocosm experiments, which found primarily interactive effects of the stressors, highlights the importance of undertaking field experiments that offer a greater element of realism. Furthermore, this study, in finding differing responses to stressors at the 2 sites, highlights the importance of environmental context in mediating effects.


KEY WORDS: Multiple stressors · Context dependence · Nutrient enrichment · Disturbance · Macrobenthos · Microphytobenthos · Field experiments


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Cite this article as: Kenworthy JM, Paterson DM, Bishop MJ (2016) Response of benthic assemblages to multiple stressors: comparative effects of nutrient enrichment and physical disturbance. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 562:37-51. https://doi.org/10.3354/meps11935

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