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Drought effects on tropical estuarine benthic assemblages in Eastern Brazil

Luiz Eduardo de Oliveira Gomes, Angelo Fraga Bernardino
Science of the total environment 2020 v.703 pp. 135490
Oligochaeta, benthic organisms, bioturbation, climate change, drought, ecological function, ecoregions, ecosystems, estuaries, fauna, habitats, monitoring, particle size, salinity, sediments, temperature, Brazil
Climate change will increase the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events with potential effects in coastal and estuarine ecosystems. During drought periods, higher salinity and temperature can directly impact estuarine benthic assemblages through physiological stress and alteration of sedimentary habitats, but these effects are poorly evaluated to date. Here we report a 14-month monitoring of benthic assemblages in a tropical estuary in the Eastern Brazil Marine Ecoregion during the severe drought period of 2015/2016. The drought in Eastern Brazil resulted in a decrease of estuarine mean sediment particle size and concurrent changes in macrofaunal benthic assemblages during the driest months. We also observed a 3-fold reduction on macrofaunal abundance with dominance of surface-dwelling Magelonid, Sternaspid, Capitellid and Oligochaeta annelids. The changes in macrofaunal structure during the severe drought also decreased the community bioturbation potential (BPc) by 5-fold, if compared to pre-drought periods. We argue that the projected increases in the frequency and severity of climatic events, such as observed during severe droughts worldwide, will greatly change the benthic fauna and their ecological functions in tropical estuarine ecosystems.