Long-term changes in a Mediterranean benthic community: relationships between the polychaete assemblages and hydrological variations of the Rhône River

Author(s): Salen-Picard C, Arlhac D


Long-term changes in a macrobenthic, muddy community of the French Mediterranean coast, near the mouth of the Rhône River, were studied using 14 samples collected between 1963 and 1996 at 70-m depth. No drastic change in the community was observed over this time period. A factor correspondence analysis (FCA) performed with the most frequent polychaete species revealed that 3 sample groups were related to trends in the Rhône River discharge. Between 1965 and 1976, the effects of dumping events close to the study site acted in synergy with river drought leading to a drop in the abundance of the most common species of the community (e.g.,Sternaspis scutata). Floods were observed to be the main factor structuring the polychaete assemblages. These floods were subsequently followed, over a period of several years, by peaks of opportunistic species (Heteromastus filiformis, Prionospio cirrifera) and, with a time lag of 1 or 2 yr, by peaks ofS. scutata. Autumn and early winter floods were mainly the result of heavy rainfalls on the Mediterranean part of the drainage basin. They transported large amounts of mineral and particulate organic matter that increased the surface and subsurface deposit feeders assemblages. Late winter and spring floods originated from the north of the basin. They proportionally brought more dissolved material and were followed by developments of suspension and surface deposit feeders. Eutrophication of the area due to increased nitrate concentrations in the river is suggested to be responsible for the abundance, since the 1980s, of small-sized deposit feeders. There is a good parallel between the cumulative mean deviations of the river discharge and the quantity of soles caught in the area with a time lag of 4 yr between these two curves. These results may be of value to the management of the regional resources.

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