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Sandy beach macrofaunal assemblages as indicators of anthropogenic impacts on coastal dunes

Bessa, Filipa, Cunha, David, Gonçalves, Sílvia Correia, Marques, João Carlos
Ecological indicators 2013 v.30 pp. 196-204
Amphipoda, Isopoda, anthropogenic activities, beaches, burrowing, coasts, dunes, ecologists, ecosystems, fauna, geotextiles, habitats, humans, recruitment, risk, sediments, society, spring, urbanization, Portugal
Ocean sandy beaches are iconic recreational assets to society and have undergone rapid degradation caused by both natural and anthropogenic pressures. A major effect of urbanisation on biota stems from artificial structures placed in aquatic systems. While the installation of these structures has been widespread, our understanding of how they impact shoreline habitats and fauna is relatively limited. On the sandy Leirosa Beach, on the European Atlantic coast (Portugal), a decade of cumulative impacts was recorded, with disruption of the frontal dune, dune nourishment and the incorporation of geotextiles to reconstruct the dune and maintain it as an artificial structure. Two years after the dune rehabilitation process at Leirosa Beach, seasonal sampling campaigns (from spring 2010 to winter 2011) were carried out to assess the effects of the artificial dune (and the first signs of its eventual disruption) on macrofauna compared to a natural dune on the same beach. During the study period, the rehabilitated foredune maintained the average slope, with similar sediment characteristics (finer sediments) when compared with the natural dune system, with no physical significant differences being appreciated between the two sites. The macrofaunal assemblages were represented especially by crustaceans (amphipods and isopods), with similar mean total density, taxon richness and diversity between sites. Special attention was given to the supralittoral species, and the results revealed that the natural zone harboured a significantly higher density of sandhopper Talitrus saltator with respect to the artificial zone. PERMANOVA results detailed the significant difference that occurred, particularly during the warmer seasons (spring and summer 2010), the recruitment period described for this species along this coast. In fact, SIMPER analysis revealed that T. saltator accounted for 46% of the dissimilarities between the natural and artificial dune sites. The presence of geotextiles extending across the supralittoral zone appeared, on the one hand, to allow for the presence of talitrids, but the application of textiles around the area prevented them from burrowing, thus causing them to avoid the rehabilitated area. The results highlighted the potentially negative effects of this artificial dune system if textile disruption continues, and the usefulness of T. saltator as an effective and reliable ecological indicator for these ecosystems. Thus, evaluating the risks and magnitude of human interventions is a major challenge for sandy beach ecologists, and baseline information is required if we are to better understand how resident macrofaunal species deal with future impact scenarios.