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Ability of phytoplankton trait sensitivity to highlight anthropogenic pressures in Mediterranean lagoons: A size spectra sensitivity index (ISS-phyto)

May 26, 2013

Size spectra exhibit common patterns of variation and predictable responses to pressures across ecosystem types, functional guilds and taxonomic groups. Here, we extend the size spectra approach to phytoplankton ecological status assessment in transitional waters by developing, testing and validating a multi-metric index of size spectra sensitivity (ISS-phyto), which integrates size structure metrics with others such as phytoplankton diversity, biomass and sensitivity of size classes to anthropogenic disturbance. The ability of various theoretical models of size spectra sensitivity to discriminate between disturbed and undisturbed ecosystems and levels of anthropogenic stress was evaluated. We used data on phytoplankton samples collected in 14 Mediterranean and Black sea transitional water ecosystems (coastal lagoons) from Italy, Albania, Greece, Bulgaria and Romania, and compared the models’ efficiency by looking at their pressure–impact response along salinity and enrichment gradients, the latter quantified as variations in dissolved inorganic nitrogen (DIN) and dissolved inorganic phosphorus (DIP). Data from a fifteenth Mediterranean lagoon was used for external validation purposes. Right asymmetric models of size class sensitivity, implying higher sensitivity of smaller cell size classes, were found to contribute to the ISS-phyto multimetric tool more effectively than symmetric and left asymmetric models, distinguishing disturbed from undisturbed lagoons and disturbed from undisturbed stations within the same lagoon. When based on right asymmetric sensitivity models, i.e., those that were most efficient in identifying anthropogenic impacts, ISS-phyto also showed the best fit of pressure–response relationships along the salinity and enrichment gradients; at low to high levels of impact ISS response was driven by size class sensitivity and at very high impacts by phytoplankton biomass. A scheme for the classification of Ecological Quality Status based on ISS-phyto is proposed and validated. The validation procedure found that ISS-phyto is an effective and sensitive monitoring tool, robust, easy to apply and to inter-calibrate among laboratories.

Vadrucci MR, Stanca E, Mazziotti C, Fonda Umani S, Georgia A, Moncheva S, Romano A, Bucci R, Ungaro N, Basset A, 2013, Ability of phytoplankton trait sensitivity to highlight anthropogenic pressures in Mediterranean lagoons: A size spectra sensitivity index (ISS-phyto), Ecological Indicators, 34, 113–125, doi:10.1016/j.ecolind.2013.04.013. Article (subscription required).
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