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Macrofaunal diversity patterns in coastal marine sediments: Re-examining common metrics and methods

Mary E. Clinton*, Paul V. R. Snelgrove, Amanda E. Bates

*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: Complex biodiversity patterns arise in marine systems due to overlapping ecological processes, including organism interactions, resource distribution, and environmental conditions. Despite the importance of documenting these patterns, describing diversity in natural ecosystems remains challenging. Here, we investigate three nearshore sub-Arctic sites to describe benthic macroinfaunal taxa and biological traits, with the ultimate aim of determining whether common diversity metrics and typical sampling efforts adequately capture community composition in these systems. First, we assess how diversity relates to sediment depth, and examine relationships among commonly used taxonomic and functional diversity indices. Second, using a power analysis, we explore how sampling effort influences the interpretation of diversity patterns in coastal systems. We report significant variation in community composition among sites, even across small spatial scales of kilometers, and find that taxonomically diverse communities do not necessarily correspond to high functional diversity. We further find that although environmental factors such as sediment depth consistently affect macroinfaunal diversity, the direction and magnitude of these relationships are site-dependent. Finally, we demonstrate that typical sampling effort for coastal benthic studies, for example <5 push cores of ~7 cm diameter, may not capture macroinfaunal community composition adequately, potentially obscuring hotspots in common diversity metrics such as taxonomic or functional richness. However, indices such as Simpson’s diversity may be well-suited to resource-limited studies with restricted sampling capacity. Our results highlight the importance of adopting multi-pronged approaches to biodiversity assessment and determining optimal sample sizes for marine benthic systems, particularly in the context of biodiversity monitoring for conservation purposes.