|Benthic habitat characterisation of soft-bottom continental shelves: Integration of acoustic surveys, benthic samples and trawling disturbance intensity
|Year of Publication
|de Juan S., C. Iacono L, Demestre M.
|Estuarine, Coastal and Shelf Science
|benthic habitats, Continental shelf, Fishing disturbance, Mediterranean Sea, Multi-beam, Side-scan sonar
|Eleven sites were located on Mediterranean continental shelves to explore the link between the physical characteristics and epibenthic fauna from soft-sediment habitats. These sites, at 32-82 m in depth, were associated with fishing grounds and the trawling intensity was estimated at the site scale to assess the effects of trawling on benthic communities. Each site was surveyed with Multi-Beam (bathymetry and backscatter), side-scan sonar, benthic grabs and a surface dredge. The sites were clustered in three habitat types. Habitat 1, with moderate trawling disturbance, was characterised by homogeneous mud and associated epifauna that was also highly homogeneous across sites. Habitat 2, with sandy mud and scattered gravel and rocks, had a high abundance of sessile suspension feeders that probably attach to the coarser substratum and benefit from the low fishing disturbance in these sites. Habitat 3 included sites with heterogeneous sediments with maërl as the prevailing biocenosis and having the highest species richness, despite being subjected to variable trawling intensity. Statistical models were used to relate environmental parameters and the species abundance. More than 3 physical variables were necessary to explain the epifaunal patterns across sites, including the percentage of mud, sediment heterogeneity and fishing effort. These analyses are an essential step for extrapolating information from benthic samples to the larger scale of habitats, mapped through acoustic surveys. Despite this, a good integration is required between the mapping of physical habitat distribution and the ecological knowledge of communities. © 2012 Elsevier Ltd.