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Marine Ecology Progress Series

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MEPS 249:157-170 (2003)  -  doi:10.3354/meps249157

Nematode biomass spectra as descriptors of functional changes due to human and natural impact

Jan Vanaverbeke*, Maaike Steyaert, Ann Vanreusel, Magda Vincx

Ghent University, Biology Department, Marine Biology Section, Krijgslaan 281, S8, 9000 Gent, Belgium

ABSTRACT: Nematode biomass spectra (NBS) for different nematode communities‹subject to different forms of stress and enrichment‹from the Belgian continental shelf have been constructed and analysed. These analyses showed that non-normalised NBS yield better results for comparisons of nematode assemblages than normalised NBS (in which the biomass in a weight class is divided by its corresponding weight interval) since the ecologically relevant information is retained. Normalising the spectra caused elevated biomass values and peaks to disappear, introducing bias when interpreting the distribution of biomass over spectra. Cumulative nematode biomass spectra proved to be useful in evaluating statistical differences, using the slope of the regression line of the cumulative biomass to the nominal value of a log2-based size class. Interpreting Pareto-type graphs and regressions was not straightforward. We suggest a combined use of both NBS and the regression approach for the analysis of NBS. NBS and cumulative NBS constructed for nematode communities from undisturbed sediments proved to be conservative: no differences in size distribution were found for communities from different locations. Physical disturbance, introduced by sand extraction, did not affect the regression slopes of cumulative NBS. However, a shift in peak biomass values towards lower size classes was observed in the regular NBS. This was attributed to an alteration of the nematode communities due to the frequent physical disturbance of the sediments. At an oxygen-stressed site, we observed a single class biomass peak, due to the presence of a single nematode species well adapted to the impoverished sediment quality. Phytoplankton sedimentation during a spring bloom corresponded to shifts in peaks in NBS due to a change in age structure of the nematode communities. Biomass values probably increased as a result of a higher food supply to the benthos.

KEY WORDS: Nematodes · Biomass · Size spectra · Physical disturbance · Oxygen stress · Phytoplankton sedimentation

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