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Marine Ecology Progress Series

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MEPS 129:141-150 (1995)  -  doi:10.3354/meps129141

The impact of habitat disturbance by scallop dredging on marine benthic communities: what can be predicted from the results of experiments?

Thrush SF, Hewitt JE, Cummings VJ, Dayton PK

Field experiments were conducted on 2 subtidal sandflats to identify the short-term impacts of commercial scallop dredging on macrobenthic communities. The 2 sites (1400 m2) were situated 14 km apart, both at about 24 m depth, with similar exposure aspects and were characterised by infaunal communities dominated by small and short-lived species. Prior to dredging, preliminary sampling failed to reveal significant differences in the density of common macrofauna within each site, although community composition was distinctly different between sites. The experiment was initiated by using a commercial scallop dredge to dredge half of each study site. Macrofauna samples were collected in both the dredged and adjacent reference plot at each site immediately after dredging and again 3 mo later. The density of common macrofaunal populations at each site decreased as a result of dredging, with some populations still significantly different from the adjacent reference plot after 3 mo. Significant compositional differences in the assemblage structure between dredged and reference plots were also recorded at each site over the course of the experiment. The findings of this experiment are considered a conservative assessment of bottom disturbance by fishing because of the area of seabed used, the types of community present and the intensity of disturbance used in the experiment. The findings of this and similar short-term experiments are discussed in light of the need to predict and assess possible large-scale changes to benthic communities as a result of habitat disturbance by fishing.

Fishing impacts . Habitat disturbance . Scallop dredging . Benthic communities . Scaling-up

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