Matching biological traits to environmental conditions in marine benthic ecosystems

J Bremner, SI Rogers, CLJ Frid

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159 Citations (Scopus)


The effects of variability in environmental conditions on species composition in benthic ecosystems are well established, but relatively little is known about how environmental variability relates to ecosystem functioning. Benthic invertebrate assemblages are heavily involved in the maintenance of ecological processes and investigation of the biological characteristics (traits) expressed in these assemblages can provide information about some aspects of functioning. The aim of this study was to establish and explore relationships between environmental variability and biological traits expressed in megafauna assemblages in two UK regions. Patterns of trait composition were matched to environmental conditions and subsets of variables best describing these patterns determined. The nature of the relationships were subsequently examined at two separate scales, both between and within the regions studied. Over the whole area, some traits related to size, longevity reproduction, mobility flexibility, feeding method, sociability and living habit were negatively correlated with salinity, sea surface temperature, annual temperature range and the level of fishing effort, and positively associated with fish taxon richness and shell content of the substratum. Between the two regions, reductions in temperature range and shell content were associated with infrequent relative occurrences of short-lived, moderately mobile, flexible, solitary, opportunistic, permanent-burrow dwelling fauna and those exhibiting reproductive strategies based on benthic development. Relationships between some traits and environmental conditions diverged within the two regions, with increases in fishing effort and shell content of the substratum being associated with low frequencies of occurrence of moderately mobile and moderately to highly flexible fauna within one region, but high frequencies in the other. These changes in trait composition have implications for ecosystem processes, with, for example, reductions in permanent-burrow dwellers within one of the regions potentially compromising the ability of the assemblages to process and store chemicals and waste products. However, the connections between environmental conditions and trait composition are complex and incorporate many factors. Experimental investigations will be necessary to determine the extent and consequences of these important relationships. (c) 2006 Elsevier B.V All rights reserved.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)302-316
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Marine Systems
Issue number3-4
Early online date29 Mar 2006
Publication statusPublished - May 2006


  • functioning
  • habitat
  • invertebrates
  • physico-chemical
  • processes
  • regional identifiers
  • UK
  • England
  • Wales
  • Irish Sea and eastern Channel

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