Effects of widespread human disturbances in the marine environment suggest a new agenda for meiofauna research is needed

Michaela Schratzberger, Paul J. Somerfield

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

25 Citations (Scopus)
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The response of an ecological community to a disturbance event, and its capacity to recover, are of major interest to ecologists, especially at a time of increasing frequencies and intensities of environmental change brought about by humans. Meiofauna, a group of small-sized organisms, are an abundant and ubiquitous component of seafloor communities that respond rapidly to environmental change. We summarise the available research on the response of metazoan meiofauna to the most widespread anthropogenic disturbances in the marine environment, including bottom fishing, the introduction of invasive species and anthropogenic climate change. We show that disturbance effects on habitats interact critically with effects on resident meiofauna species. Their responses are consistent with competitive replacement, where disparate disturbance effects on competing species drive shifts in dominance and intra- and interspecific interactions. The widespread replacement of habitat-specific ecological specialists by broadly-adapted ecological generalists and opportunists results in biotic and functional homogenisation of once disparate biotas. Anthropogenic disturbances may facilitate novel interactions among meiofauna species, and between meiofauna and other benthic organisms, but the number and breadth of these interactions is likely to be limited. Knowledge about the dependence of meiofauna species on their environment and on other benthic species has been growing. Future studies will be most meaningful if this knowledge is expanded alongside understanding the potential of locally adapted species to respond to shifts in environmental conditions.

Original languageEnglish
Article number138435
JournalScience of the Total Environment
Early online date17 Apr 2020
Publication statusPublished - 1 Aug 2020


  • Meiofauna
  • Anthropogenic disturbance
  • Bottom fishing
  • Invasive species
  • climate change
  • Ecosystem consequences
  • Climate change

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