Benthic macrofauna changes in areas of Venice lagoon populated by seagrasses or seaweeds

Author(s): Sfriso A, Birkemeyer T, Ghetti PF


Two areas of the Venice lagoon populated by seagrasses (three stations covered by Cymodocea nodosa (Ucria) Asherson, Zostera marina Linnaeus, Zostera noltii Hornemann) or seaweeds (two stations: one covered by Ulva rigida C. Agardh and another at present without seaweed biomass) were monitored by means of six surveys over a year in order to study macrofaunal composition and seasonal changes. The seagrass stations showed a mean species richness (28–30 S m−2), individual abundance (1854–4018 N m−2) and biomass (22.3–37.7 g m−2 ash-free-dry-weight, AFDW) ca. 3–8 times higher than those populated by seaweeds (10–15 S m−2, 494–1395 N m−2 and 5.6–13.7 g m−2 AFDW). Differences among seagrass or seaweed stations were much lower. The Ulva-dominated station showed a macrofauna completely different both from the other stations and the communities recorded ca. 30 years ago, before the prolific growth of Ulva. In this station, frequent biomass decompositions and anoxic crises created critical conditions for life favouring organisms with reduced life cycles, younger individuals and the epifaunal species instead of the infaunal ones. In particular, Ulva grazers and scrapers such as Gammarus aequicauda Stock and Gibbula adriatica Philippi were found to be by far the most abundant species, whereas the taxa characteristic of the associations found in the past, in the presence of seagrasses or seaweeds and typical of low eutrophicated environments, appear strongly reduced. Marked differences in the macrophyte dominance and in the bio-physico-chemical variables which characterise the main environmental conditions of the Venice lagoon support the different distribution and composition of macrofaunal communities. Seaweed stations appear mainly governed by the seasonal cycles of these un-rooted macrophytes which, by alternating periods of production and decomposition, are responsible for the drastic reduction of macrofauna biodiversity and biomass. Conversely, seagrass stations exhibit a better oxidisation of the environment and show conditions more favourable for macrofauna colonisation, especially in the presence of macrophytes which are characterised by very well developed below-ground systems such as Cymodocea nodosa.

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