Marine coastal ecosystems are affected by a vast array of human-induced disturbances and stresses, which are often capable of overwhelming the effects of natural changes. Despite the conceptual and practical difficulty in differentiating between disturbance and stress, which are often used interchangeably, the two terms bear different ecological meanings. Both are external agents, but the former causes mortality or physical damage (subtraction of biomass), whereas the latter causes physiological alteration (reduction in productivity). Sensitivity of marine organisms may thus have a dual connotation, being influenced in different ways by disturbance and by stress following major environmental change. Coralligenous assemblages, which shape unique biogenic formations in the Mediterranean Sea, are considered highly sensitive to change. In this paper, we propose a method to differentiate between disturbance and stress to assess the ecological status of the coralligenous assemblages. Disturbance sensitivity level (DSL) and stress sensitivity level (SSL) of the sessile organisms thriving in the coralligenous assemblages were combined into the integrated sensitivity level of coralligenous assemblages (ISLA) index. Changes in the coralligenous status were assessed in space, along a gradient of stress (human-induced pressures) at several sites of the western Mediterranean, and in time, from a long-term series (1961–2008) at Mesco Reef (Ligurian Sea) that encompasses a mass mortality event in the 1990s. The quality of the coralligenous assemblages was lower in highly urbanised sites than that in sites in both marine protected areas and areas with low levels of urbanisation; moreover, the quality of the assemblages at Mesco Reef decreased during the last 50 years. Reduction in quality was mainly due to the increase in stress-tolerant and/or opportunist species (e.g. algal turfs, hydroids and encrusting sponges), the disappearance of the most sensitive macroalgae (e.g. Udoteaceae and erect Rhodophyta) and macro-invertebrates (e.g. Savalia savaglia, Alcyonium coralloides and Smittina cervicornis), and the appearance of invasive alien algal species. Although the specific indices of SSL or DSL well illustrated the changes in the spatial or temporal datasets, respectively, their integration in the ISLA index was more effective in measuring the change experienced by the coralligenous assemblages in both space and time.
|Titolo:||The two facets of species sensitivity: stress and disturbance on coralligenous assemblages in space and time.|
|Data di pubblicazione:||2017|
|Appare nelle tipologie:||01.01 - Articolo su rivista|
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|Montefalcone et al.MPB2017_post print.pdf||Documento in Post-print||Open Access Visualizza/Apri|