A generic approach to develop a trait-based indicator of trawling-induced disturbance

Olivier Beauchard, Anik Brind’Amour, Michaela Schratzberger, Pascal Laffargue, Niels T. Hintzen, Paul J. Somerfield, Gerjan Piet

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Biological trait analysis has become a popular tool to infer the vulnerability of benthic species to trawling-induced disturbance. Approaches using multiple traits are being developed, but their generic relevance across faunal components and geographic locations remains poorly tested, and the importance of confounding effects are poorly recognised. This study integrates biological traits of benthic species that are responsive to instantaneous effects of trawling (i.e. sensitivity) and traits expressing recoverability over the longer term (i.e. years). We highlight the functional independence between these 2 components in response to trawling, test the behaviours of single and combined traits and account for potential confounding effects of environment and trawling intensity on benthic communities through variation partitioning. Two case studies are considered: epibenthos from the Bay of Biscay and endobenthos of the Dutch sector of the North Sea. The response to trawling is most pronounced when multiple traits covering different aspects that determine population dynamics (i.e. sensitivity and recoverability) are combined, despite confounding effects between gradients of benthic production and trawling intensity, especially for endobenthos. The integration of traits reflecting both sensitivity and recoverability provides complementary information on the faunal response to trawling, bridging the gap between fishing impact assessments and benthic community status assessments.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)35–52
Number of pages18
JournalMarine Ecology Progress Series
Early online date30 Sep 2021
Publication statusPublished - 2021


  • Benthic macroinvertebrate
  • Biological trait
  • Bottom trawling
  • Composite indicator
  • Confounding effect
  • Natural history
  • Time scale

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