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Marine Ecology Progress Series

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MEPS 682:31-50 (2022)  -  DOI:

Benthic synecology in a soft sediment shelf: habitat contrasts and assembly rules of life strategies

Olivier Beauchard1,2,*, Sebastiaan Mestdagh1, Leo Koop3, Tom Ysebaert1,4, Peter M. J. Herman5

1Netherlands Institute for Sea Research and Utrecht University, Department of Estuarine and Delta Systems, Korringaweg 7, PO Box 140, Yerseke 4401 NT, The Netherlands
2University of Antwerp, Ecosystem Management Research Group, Universiteitsplein 1, 2610 Wilrijk, Belgium
3Delft University of Technology, Acoustics Group, Delft 2629 HS, The Netherlands
4Wageningen Marine Research, Wageningen University and Research, PO Box 77, Yerseke 4400 AB, The Netherlands
5Deltares, Marine and Coastal Systems, Rotterdamseweg 185, PO Box 177, Delft 2600 MH, The Netherlands
*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: Biological traits of benthic macroinvertebrates from a large area of the North Sea soft sediments were used to explore habitat occupancy within seascapes of contrasting hydrodynamics. The area, the Dutch sector of the North Sea, is mainly composed of 2 habitats: shallow dynamic bottoms of heterogeneous geomorphologies and deep homogeneous muddy bottoms. Higher within-habitat heterogeneity was hypothesized to more specifically select benthic life strategies according to environmental filtering, i.e. through the action of abiotic forces. Functional community patterns were explored through the RLQ method, which relates habitat and trait variables, at different spatial scales of specific seascape heterogeneity, and functional diversity indices were used to shed light on community assembly mechanisms. Locally, 3 associations between habitat characteristics and biological traits were shown to correspond with predictions of life history theories, whereas only 2 emerged when considering all types of seascapes. This spatial scale-dependence was explained by abiotic alternations masked over the larger scale at which all the existing strategies could not be properly disentangled. The relative composition in strategies obeyed specific assembly rules as identified by functional diversity indices. Seascape geomorphology was locally discriminant of functional patterns, and could account for biodiversification, much beyond basic taxonomic counts. Whereas habitats of higher physical stability hosted the taxonomically richest communities, stress or disturbance frequency increased functional variations within communities due to different strategist habitat occupancies. This study proposes a generic mechanism of benthic community structuring in soft sediment shelves.

KEY WORDS: Benthic macroinvertebrate · Biological trait · Life strategy · Assembly rule · Spatial contingency · Stress · Disturbance · Geomorphology

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Cite this article as: Beauchard O, Mestdagh S, Koop L, Ysebaert T, Herman PMJ (2022) Benthic synecology in a soft sediment shelf: habitat contrasts and assembly rules of life strategies. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 682:31-50.

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