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Lost in translation? Multi-metric macrobenthos indicators and bottom trawling
- Gislason, Henrik, Bastardie, Francois, Dinesen, Grete E., Egekvist, Josefine, Eigaard, Ole Ritzau
- Ecological indicators 2017 v.82 pp. 260-270
- European Union, correlation, environmental monitoring, habitats, pollution, salinity, simulation models, species diversity, Denmark, Sweden
- The member states of the European Union use multi-metric macrobenthos indicators to monitor the ecological status of their marine waters in relation to the Water Framework and Marine Strategy Framework Directives. The indicators translate the general descriptors of ecological quality in the directives into a single value of ecological status by combining indices of species diversity, species sensitivity and density. Studies and inter-calibration exercises have shown that the indicators respond to chemical pollution and organic enrichment, but little is known about their response to bottom trawling. We use linear mixed effects models to analyze how bottom trawling intensity affects the indicators used in the Danish (Danish Quality Index, DKI) and Swedish (Benthic Quality Index, BQI) environmental monitoring programs in the Kattegat, the sea area between Sweden and Denmark. Using year and station as random variables and trawling intensity, habitat type, salinity and depth as fixed variables we find a significant negative relationship between the BQI indicator and bottom trawling, while the DKI is related significantly to salinity, but not to trawling intensity. Among the indicator components, the species diversity and sensitivity indices used in the DKI are not significantly linked to trawling, and trawling only affects the BQI when species sensitivities are derived from rarefied samples. Because the number of species recorded per sample (species density) is limited by the number of individuals per sample (density), we expect species density and density to be positively correlated. This correlation was confirmed by a simulation model and by statistical analysis of the bottom samples in which log species density was highly significantly related to log density (r=0.75, df=144, p<0.001). Without accounting for the effect of density on species density, indicators based on species density will be affected by temporal and spatial variations in density linked e.g. to variable recruitment success. When this variation is accounted for by random year and station effects we find log trawling intensity to explain more of the variation in log density than in the indicators currently used to monitor Good Ecological and Environmental Status in the Kattegat. Disregarding random effects and the relationship between density and species density, the impacts of bottom trawling are likely to be lost in the translation of ecological quality into macrobenthos indicators.