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Evaluation of estuarine biotic indices to assess macro-benthic structure and functioning following nutrient remediation actions: A case study on the Eden estuary Scotland

Watson, Stephen C.L., Paterson, David M., Widdicombe, Stephen, Beaumont, Nicola J.
Regional studies in marine science 2018 v.24 pp. 379-391
benthic zone, carbon, case studies, ecosystem services, ecosystems, environmental factors, estuaries, eutrophication, littoral zone, marine science, monitoring, nitrates, organic matter, remediation, risk, species diversity, Scotland
Despite a wealth of methods currently proposed by the European Water Framework Directive (WFD) to assess macro-benthic integrity, determining good ecological status (GES) and assessing ecosystem recovery following anthropogenic degradation is still one of the biggest challenges in marine ecology research. In this study, our aim was to test a number of commonly used structural (e.g. Shannon–Wiener, Average Taxonomic Diversity (Δ), M-AMBI) and functional indicators (e.g. BTA, BPc) currently used in benthic research and monitoring programmes on the Eden estuary (Scotland). Historically the estuary has a legacy of high nutrient conditions and was designated as a Nitrate Vulnerable Zone (NVZ) in 2003, whence major management measures were implemented in order to ameliorate the risk of eutrophication symptoms. We therefore collected data on intertidal macro-benthic communities over a sixteen year interval, covering a pre-management (1999) and post-management (2015) period to assess the effectiveness of the intended restoration efforts. In the post-management period, the results suggested an improvement in the structure and functioning of the estuary as a whole, but macro-benthic assemblages responded to restoration variably along the estuarine gradient. The greatest improvements were noticed in the upper and central sites of the estuary with functional traits analysis suggesting an increased ability of these sites to provide ecosystem services associated with the benthic environment such as carbon and organic matter cycling. Generally, almost all of the structural and functional indicators detected the prevailing environmental conditions (with the exception of (Pielou’s index and Average Taxonomic Diversity (Δ)), highlighting the appropriateness of such methods to be used in monitoring the recovery of transitional systems. This research also provides a robust baseline to monitor further management actions in the Eden estuary and provides evidence that notable reductions in nitrate concentrations resulting from NVZ designations may result in significant improvements to benthic structure and functioning.